Sunday, September 30, 2012

Make Your own Vanilla Extract

There is only one species Vanilla Plantifolia flower of vanilla orchid, that is used for cooking and perfumery. Vanilla beans, growing on the vine. Vanilla  is grown in many different regions of the world. Madagascar, Tahiti, Mexico, New Guinea, Indonesia, Tonga, India. Each have a distinctively, unique flavor. My favorite has continued to be, Mexican vanilla. It has a sweeter, candy-like taste, to me. Tahitian is a close, second.
Vodka is most commonly used, to make vanilla extract. But Rum and Bourbon are also very popular, but add other spices to the extract.

Here in the Midwest,  A good bottle of extract is about $7.00....2 vanilla beans from the spice section, of my grocer, costs, anywhere from $11.00 to $15.00. I have found, you can get good quality, cheap vanilla beans from Ebay stores. I have included Ebay links for my 3 favorite vanilla beans. This extract is of a superior quality, over the store bought kind, and you can taste the difference. I grew a vanilla orchid, once. It grew and grew, for about five years, I but never flowered. So I gave it away.

Ebay Source- for Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans

 Ebay source for Tahitian vanilla beans

Ebay source for Mexican vanilla beans

3 vanilla beans
1 cup of your preferred alcohol
A small jar with a lid.

Split the beans, cut them to fit, if needed.  The flavor comes from the seeds inside, scrape any loose seeds, into the jar. Add the vanilla and vodka, to the jar, and shake a few times. Steep in a dark place,  for 1-6 months. Shake the bottle, once a week. I test it in a recipe, after 1 month. If it has a good, strong flavor, Then I strain, and bottle it. You can get a second bottle, by adding another cup of vodka, then steep it for about 3-6 months.

Make your own- Cannoli and Cream Horn forms

                         Make your own- Cannoli and Cream horn forms

Cream horns, were called clothespin cookies, by early American settlers. They used round wooden clothespins, as forms. You can buy the metal forms, and they will actually be horn shaped, but I like D.I.Y. projects. These work great, and cost less than $5.00 a dozen. Spray them between each batch, you form.

I used 5/8-inch x 36-inch wooden dowels, cut into 5-inch lengths. You can use a larger diameter, if you like. These are made from a very soft wood (balsa-I think) So they're very easy to sand. I beveled the edges a little too. You need at least a dozen forms.

Wash the dust from sanding, and allow to dry, completely. I sprayed them heavily, with canola oil, and let them stand overnight. The next day, I sprayed them again, and let them stand overnight. I washed them the next morning. They are ready to use. Don't leave the oil on them, or it will turn rancid. Spray before using, and wash after each use. The canola spray, works better than anything else I've tried. (I use Crisco brand)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Moisturizing, nourishing hair mask

My poor hair has been looking a bit rough lately, so I threw together my favorite hair mask. I've heard it said, that some people have had problems, with banana leaving particles (banana seeds) in their hair, after washing. This photo was taken after my hair dried. I only combed it once, right after I towel dried. I never see particles, and my hair feels so much softer and manageable, after just one use. It feels lighter than conditioner.
Any of these ingredients can be used on skin, too.

1 can coconut milk-(moisturizes, nourishes, helps with frizz)
3 bananas-(moisturizes, nourishes)
1 peeled avocado-(moisturizes, nourishes)
2Tbl. honey- (a humectant, and helps with frizz )
1tsp. almond oil-(moisturizes, helps with frizz, for shine)
1tsp. vinegar- (for shine)
1/2tsp almond extract-(fragrance)
1/2tsp vanilla extract-(fragrance)
Puree all ingredients, in a blender, for 5 minutes. Saturate dry hair, with the mask. (It will not be thick.) Wrap your hair in plastic wrap for one hour. Refrigerate remainder.
Give your family the 'Vulcan Salute' or say, "I come in peace", or "Nan-oo nan-oo" because you look like a bad sci-fi movie.
After 1-hour, rinse well, and wash hair. It's OK to use a conditioner too, if you hair is very dry.
I also use 1 cup, in my bath,  for a moisturizing, bath soak.  I use it, before each hair washing, until I have emptied the container. Makes 2 to 3 cups.

Here are some other ingredients that can be beneficial.

yogurt-(softens and makes hair manageable)
egg-( for splitting hair, nourishes)
cucumber-(moisturizes, nourishes)
lemon-(brightens blonde hair)
cocoa powder-(moisturizes and deepens dark hair)
strawberry-(shine, nourishes)
Kiwi-(moisturizes, nourishes)

Monday, September 24, 2012

'Wild' Sourdough Starter

                                        Day 1, of my- 'Wild Starter.'

This is the old frontier method. Instead of using a yeast packet, to start your sourdough, you capture wild yeast from your kitchen. The method is the same, but slower. And you have the advantage of having a unique flavor, from all those wild buggers. The older your starter gets, the better it becomes. You will begin to smell the yeast after the first day, the yeast consumes the sugars in the flour, and gives off alcohol, and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is what's in, all those bubbles you see. The yeast multiplying, and the carbon dioxide, is what makes the bread rise.

Sir together 1/2 cup flour and 1/2cup water. Mix well. Put the starter in a large container. Cover with a thin cloth, and secure it with a rubber band. Let stand 24 hours. This allows the starter, to capture live yeast, from the air. You will be adding, flour and water, everyday, to feed the yeast.

Add 1/2cup water and 1/2 cup flour. Stir vigorously. let stand 24 hours. You will begin to smell the yeast.

Add 1/2cup water and 1/2cup flour. Stir vigorously. let stand 24 hours. It will begin to smell it sour, and a layer of alcohol will form on the surface.

Add 1/2cup water and 1/2cup flour. Stir vigorously. let stand 24 hours. Almost ready.

You can begin to use your sourdough. I keep mine in the fridge, which slows down the rate of growth.
Once a week:
Remove 1 cup of starter, from the container, and use it for baking, or freeze it.
Add 1 cup flour and 1 cup water, back to the container, stirring it in vigorously.
Put it back in the fridge, until next week

If you want to use your starter, more than once a week. Don't put it in the fridge. Here's King Aurthur Flour co.'s instructions for maintaining your starter at room temp.

Make- prepared horseradish

                                           Prepared horseradish

1cup horseradish- cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2cup water
1/4cup white vinegar
1/4tsp. salt
1/4tsp. sugar

In a food processor, or blender, combine all ingredients. Process until the horseradish is finely grated. Refrigerate. Good for 6 months. If you see a change in color, or becomes darker, throw it out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Homemade Cheddar Cheese Curds

Only peril can bring the French together. One can't impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 different kinds of cheese. - Charles de Gaulle

                             Garlic and Dill-Cheddar Cheese Curds.

It's funny, the way family and friends can influence you, and expose you to new and wonderful things, that you wouldn't stumble on yourself, and visa-versa. Most of my family are 'Rambling Roses'. I remember my Mother, quite frequently, during summer vacation from school, announcing early in the morning, that we were going on a day trip. Often, they were historical sites, or a dairy farm, strawberry farm, etc..  She sometimes took two to three day trips, on her own too. I have three sisters, all of which have that same adventurer's bug.

I'm quite different, in that respect. I love to spend my vacations, at home, pouring over interesting books, in the gardens, cooking, or just sitting on the lawn-swing, listening to birds. So I have never been to Wisconsin, and eaten the delicacy, of  fresh cheddar cheese curds, myself. But just a mention of them, would incite, wistful-eyed, wordless, rapture from my family.
Being an avid 'Do-it-yourself '-er, and a hopeless people pleaser, I had no choice, but to learn the art of cheese making.

These are really easy, the only time consuming part, is the waiting. it takes good potion of the day, waiting. then another 12-24hours, in the fridge, before they are ready to eat. The only specialized items you need, are mesophilic starter  and liquid rennet. I bought these at Midwest supply, which cost just under $20.00-(including shipping) I usually receive my order in 3-4 days.
The New England Cheese Making Supply  is a reliable one, on the east coast.
The starter is enough to convert 7-8 gallons of milk, into 7-8lbs. of cheese. If kept in the freezer, it keeps for a few years. The rennet can convert, many more gallons, and can be kept in the fridge.
You can use whole milk from the grocery store, but don't buy ultra-pasteurized, there isn't enough bacteria in it. I hear fresh raw milk, makes better cheese, but I would not attempt it, myself.
I pre-wash everything first, in regular dish water with a capful of bleach added to it, to make sure they are sterile. Be sure you rinse it, well.

Here's a short video, to show you how simple it is.This is exactly the same process, just on a much larger scale. The video begins, when they are heating the curd, after the culture and rennet have been added.

There are similar but different methods, of making these, I like Tara's method over at Cooking from scratch. It's very reliable. Also if your want your cheese to be orange, (The only difference between white and orange cheddar, is a coloring called annato) here's an ebay link for it. ground annato seed. I don't use it.

Supplies needed: (Makes 1lb. of cheese curds)
A double boiler -or two pots (I use a large stainless steel bowl, over a 4quart pan with 2inches of water in the pan.)
A good thermometer that can read below 100*f
1gallon whole milk
1/4tsp. of mesophilic starter culture
1/2tsp. liquid renet
1/2tsp. kosher salt (I have used pickling salt too)
2 layers of cheesecloth -or- 1 very thin kitchen towel
A colander
a rubber band
a 1 gallon jug-filled with water, for weight
parchment paper, or plastic wrap
(optional- I like to add 3/4tsp garlic powder and 1/2tsp dill)

Let's start making cheese:
Heat the milk, in the top of the double boiler, to 85*f . (About 15 minutes)
Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the culture. Cover, and let stand 1 hour. This allows the culture to multiply, just like yeast.
After one hour.
If I use herbs, this is when I add them. Just stir them in along with the rennet.
Add the rennet, then whisk it into the milk mixture. Cover and let stand for another hour.
The rennet will make the milk solidify, a bit, sort of like gelatin.
After an hour check to see if it has, what is called "A clean break" in cheese making. (Photo Below) To test it, run a knife through, and see if you can pull it apart cleanly. if it's still mushy, wait until you get a clean break.

Now it's time to separate the whey, from the curd.
Return the curd, back to the double boiler, and (slowly) heat, on a medium-low flame, to 100*f.
I try to take about, 30 minutes to bring it to 100*f .
Once you've reached it, turn the burner off, and set the bowl on the counter. The temperature will continue to rise, a few degrees. Try to keep a constant 100*f temperature for 30 minutes, stirring a few times, You may have to return it to the double boiler, to maintain the temp., but I usually don't.  The whey will start separating from the curd.
After 30 minutes, the curds and whey should be well separated. (Photos Below)

Set the colander over a large pot, and line it with the cloth. Pour the curds and whey, into the colander.
Once it has stopped dripping, (about 20 minutes) Gather the edges of the cloth and secure with a rubber band.
Invert a saucer, over the curd, (still in the colander) And set the gallon jug, on top, to press out the whey. Let it sit for about 2 hours.
After 2 hours, unwrap the curd, and set it on a piece of parchment. Cut it into 1/2 to 1inch cubes.

The next step is called cheddar-ing.
Put the curds in a small bowl. Fill a larger bowl, with very hot tap water. Set the bowl with the curds in it. Floating. This will draw out more whey, and bring out some of the flavor.
Every 45 minutes or so, drain the whey, from the curds, and change the water in the bowl. trying to maintain a 95* temp. (It doesn't have to be exact) continue to do this for 3 hours.
after 3 hours, drain the whey, one last time. Sprinkle the salt, over the curds, and toss to coat.
Set the curds, back on the parchment. Cover and allow them to dry.
You can leave them out, for up to 36 hours, but I prefer to leave them out, until I go to bed, then put them in a bag, and refrigerate, until the next day, when they are ready to eat, after 12 hours. I prefer to let them set in the fridge, for one more day before serving, they really have a stronger flavor then. It's best to eat them within a few days, or they begin to lose flavor.

Heat the milk to 85*f. Remove it from the heat, and whisk in the culture. Let stand 1 hour. After the hour is up, stir in the rennet. Let stand another hour, or until you get a clean break.

This is a clean break, it is about the texture of thick pudding. Run a knife through it, see if it separates, and leaves a knife mark, and you can pull it apart, just a bit. If not, wait a bit longer, 5 minutes can make all the difference.

By the time you reach 100*f, you will see the curds starting to form. (This is from a batch I added herbs to.)

Once you've reached 100*, try to maintain a constant temp., for 30 minutes. Turn the burner off, remove the pan from the double boiler, and set it on the counter. It rose to 105* a few minutes later. (which is fine) but after 20 minutes, it dropped to 99*f, so I set it back on the warm double boiler, without a flame. It maintained 99*f for the final 10 minutes.

Place 2 layers of cheese cloth, or a very thin kitchen towel, over a colander. Pour the curds and whey into the colander.(I save the whey, for baking, and making  ricotta cheese)

Once it has slowed dripping, (about 20minutes.) loosely gather the edges of the towel, and secure with a rubber band.

Place a saucer, over the towel, and set a gallon of water on top, to press out more whey, and give you a nice, solid block. Check after 2hours, you should have a solid, rubbery mass.

Unwrap the curd, and gently set it on a piece of parchment. it is solid, but still fragile.

Cut the curd into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes. If you taste it at this point, it really doesn't have much flavor yet. That comes from the next 2 steps, called 'Cheddaring', and age-ing

Cheddar-ing: Put the curds in a smaller bowl. Fill a larger bowl, half full of very hot tap water. This will draw out more whey from the curds, and give the cheese more flavor too. About every 45 minutes, drain the whey from the curds, and dump the water in the bowl, adding fresh hot water. You are trying to maintain a temp. of around 95*, but it doesn't have to be exact.

After 3 hours, Drain the whey, one last time. Sprinkle the salt over the curds, and toss to coat.

Set the curds, back on the parchment, and cover with a cloth. Now let it dry, until you go to bed. while it's drying, it will also be developing flavor. Before I go to bed, I put the curds, in a plastic bag, and refrigerate, where they will further develop flavor. They will be ready to eat in about 12 hours, but I prefer to wait one more day, before serving. Then they have a really good texture and flavor.

Making Ricotta Cheese from Whey

                     'Old World' Style Ricotta- smooth and creamy.

Whey is a by-product of cheese making. It has many uses, but my favorite is making ricotta cheese.
There are three methods of making ricotta. I prefer the 'Old World Style, but you don't get much, this way.
I usually wind up with 2/3 to 3/4 of a gallon of whey, from making a pound of cheddar. The first two recipes will be for that amount, of whey.

The Old World method:
Place the colander over a bowl, Line it with the towel.
Heat the gallon (or less) of whey to 200*f. Once it reaches about 180*f, you will see tiny particles, float to the surface. This is the protein in the whey, starting to coagulate. (These tiny particles, are the ricotta)
Once it reaches 200*, pour it slowly, into the colander. It will be near the boiling point, use caution. Let it drain, about 30minutes, then gather the corners of the cloth together, and secure with a rubber band. Let it hang over the colander, to drip for about 2 hours.
Remove the rubber band, and using a rubber spatula, scrape the cheese into a bowl, most of it will be clinging to the cloth. Chill. It's ready to use. You will wind up with about 2Tbl. of ricotta from this method.
Good for about 2weeks in the fridge.

      The vinegar method. Not as smooth, but still fairly creamy. Yields 1/4 cup.

The vinegar method:
Proceed the same way, as the Old World method, except, add 2Tbl. white vinegar to they whey, after it reaches 200*f., stirring about 1 minute, before pouring it into the colander.  You will wind up with about 1/4 cup of ricotta. The texture is not as smooth, but it tastes the same.

Ricotta from whole milk:
I won't have a photo for this method, I made it only once, and prefer to use whole milk, to make cheddar cheese curds. The cheese you get from this method is very chunky, and has to be broken up, before you can use it. Heat 2Quarts of whole milk, to 200*f., in a heavy pot. turn the burner off, and stir in 3-4Tbl. of white vinegar. Cover and let stand 15-20 minutes. Proceed to drain, the same as the other methods.

I think these thin, cotton kitchen towels, are perfect for cheese making. I add a little bleach, when I wash them.

                                             Heat the whey to 200*f.

   At around 180*f., You will see tiny particles begin to float on the surface.

Once it reaches 200*, Pour it into a towel lined colander. Let it drain, 30minutes. After 30 minutes, gather the edges of the towel, together, and secure with a rubber band. Lay across the top of the colander, or let it hang, for about 2 hours.

Most of the ricotta, will be clinging to the cloth. Use a rubber spatula, to scrape it into a pile. transfer to a dish and refrigerate. It's ready to use.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saving Heirloom Tomato Seeds

 “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” - Thomas Jefferson

Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated, and non-hybridized varieties. I'm saving seeds from my favorite variety, 'Taps Tomato' for next years garden.

Choose a large, healthy, fully ripe tomato. Don't use one that's over-ripe, or the seeds could sprout, or decay in the later steps.

                                           Cut the tomato in half.

Squeeze the tomatoes, into a bowl, crushing them.(don't use metal) Don't worry about scraping seeds from the tomato, there will be a lot that will fall into the bowl.

Taps is a very juicy Tomato, I strain the juice away, and put the seeds back in the bowl. You'll notice the seeds are coated, with a gel. the next step is to get rid of the gel.

                                         Fill the bowl, half full of water.

Cover and let it set; for about, 3 days,(depends on the temperature) until you see mold growing on the surface. I used a cereal bowl, and covered it with a saucer.

The mold will look like a cloudy film on the surface. You most likely, will see a few seeds, floating on the surface as well. (these won't sprout) Pour off as much of the water as you can, including the floating seeds.

I pick out any large tomato particles, by hand, then dump the seeds into a small mesh strainer. Run water over the seeds, in the strainer, while gently rubbing them, with your fingertips, to dislodge any remaining gel, on the seeds. After letting the water drain from the strainer, dump the seeds, onto a clean folded kitchen towel, or a paper plate. Spread them out, a bit, so the air can circulate around them, and prevent them from molding. Let them dry for a few days, then store them in a labeled envelope.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bringing an herb from the garden - indoors

Tarragon is a perennial. I grew a different variety, this year, (Texas tarragon) that I really liked, but it's only hardy to zone 8. It's doesn't stand a chance in my zone 5b garden. I wasn't sure if I would find another, next spring, so I decided to bring it indoors.

I dug it up, shook off as much garden soil, as I could. This was a fairly large plant, so I cut it back to about 4 inches, to reduce the shock, and give the roots a chance to recuperate. I kept it moist, and after 2 weeks, I'm seeing signs of growth. Now I'll have fresh tarragon in the winter too.
I also brought in a Thai basil, and a  ghost pepper plant, that hadn't bloomed yet. (it started setting flower buds, after I potted it... go figure)  I didn't have to cut either of them back, and they look happier indoors than out. If you bring an herb indoors, that is growing a little lopsided, just cut it back, a bit and it will grow back fuller, and more evenly.

                        Thai basil 'Siam Queen' growing happily indoors.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bath Bomb Fizzies

            Handmade soap, soy fragrance tarts, perfume and bath bombs

Instead of baking today I decided to make a batch of bath bombs . A bath bomb in action. Drop one in the tub and inhale.
These are so easy, and you can make them in your favorite scents.
I made this batch using "OMG Olive" from Natures Garden. A soft citrus-vanilla-musk blend.

Recipe: and  Tutorial
3cups baking soda
1cup citric acid
1/2oz. fragrance oil
a few drops of food coloring
a spray bottle of water (I don't use witch hazel)
This made 17 -half sized -bombs
I get my fragrance oils from Natures Garden  and  Daystar
the citric acid from

Mix together baking soda and citric acid. Blend in fragrance and color. moisten with water until it begins to stick together, like wet sand.

Press into any mold (I Make mine into only 1/2 bombs) and dry overnight. Keep them in storage bags. You can use them the next day. 

Honey as a lipbalm

Honey -Some people are allergic to honey, and should not use this remedy.

Did you know honey is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial? It has been used for thousands of years to treat dry, cracked lips. Just dab a very tiny amount on your lips, several times a day. You'll notice the difference after the first application. You'll find, it's really hard to resist licking your lips, because of honey's delightful sweetness. I prefer to use undiluted honey but, if you want to make your own lip balm, here's a tried and true recipe. This can be made in the microwave

4Tbl. almond oil- found at pharmacies and health food stores
2Tbl. beeswax -found at craft stores
2tsp. honey
a small jar with a lid- found at craft stores and walmart

Heat the wax and oil, about 1 minute in the microwave, or until melted. Stir in the honey, and mix well to combine everything. Cool completely. Pour into a small jar, with a lid.