I love finding recipes for things that I thought you could only buy in a store. I especially love them when they are easy and better than what you can usually find. All you need to make vanilla extract is a few vanilla beans, vodka and a little time to steep.
You can find whole vanilla beans in gourmet or health food stores that have a good spice section. You can also buy them online. I used two Madagascar Vanilla Beans (touted as the world’s best) that our friends Suzanne and Paul gave us.
Here’s how to make it:
-1 vanilla beans; slice it down the middle length-wise (at least 1 bean per cup of vodka)
-Place them in a jar
-Add 1 cups of vodka (enough to cover the beans)
-Cover tightly and store in a dark cabinet (or use a dark colored bottle)
-Shake every couple of days
You will see the color start to change in a day or two. In about three-four weeks, the extract will be ready to use. Strain if desired, but the longer the beans steep, the better the vanilla. I don’t strain mine.
You can keep the same vanilla beans going for years. Just keep topping off with more vodka. Pretty cool.
Start a bottle now and have it in time for your holiday baking. Add a pretty ribbon and you got yourself a dandy homemade gift.
After college I lived in Richmond, Virginia in a section of town called Oregon Hill. My roommate Rebby and I planted a garden in the back of our row house. City backyard vegetable gardens weren’t particularly fashionable at the time, but that didn’t matter to us.
Once, when weeding, Rebby pulled a weed, examined it, tasted it and declared that she thought it was sorrel. She pulled and tasted many so called weeds. In doing so, she had our garden rows looking very tidy and forever changed my perspective on weeds.
There are all kinds of weeds you can eat: dandelion, chicory, wild violets, purslane, plantain, stinging nettle, burdock root and, believe it or not, kudzu. I have not tried kudzu, but apparently you can eat the leaves like spinach and use the root, which is called Japanese arrowroot as a thickening agent. In true southern form, you can also batter and fry the leaves.
Kudzu is very invasive so it is often sprayed with herbicide. You’ll want to stay away from sprayed kudzu. Also be sure to stay away from that other ubiquitous highway weed, poison ivy.
In fact, when foraging for weeds, I mean, edible plants, there are many things to keep in mind. For one, not everyone loves weeds and loathes chemicals as much as I do so be careful where you gather. Pick in a clean, herbicide and pet-free field. Second, not all weeds are edible plants. If you aren’t certain, skip them or check a guidebook.
An easy to identify weed is the much loved and much hated dandelion. Health wise, the list of the beneficial properties of dandelions is as long as my arm. Dandelion greens are rich in calcium, iron, vitamins A and C, and beta-carotene. They have antioxidants properties, aid with liver disorders, diabetes, urinary disorders, acne, jaundice, cancer and anemia. They are a diuretic and a good detoxifier. So eat up!
It is now trendy to sport dandelions in your lawn. It shows the world that you are eschewing polluting the environment with chemicals. My husband and I recently took a drive to up in the mountains. They, thankfully, got that memo. It is full-blown dandelion season there. Lawn and fields alike are covered with the beautiful yellow flowers.
We pulled into a hiking trial parking lot, grabbed a bag and headed up the trail. We quickly filled our bag with a combo of dandelion leaves and flowers. We also bagged a few bugs, so I would recommend giving them a good rinse before you bring your haul inside.
Last Saturday I was doing yard work in our backyard when I noticed a mushroom that looked suspiciously like a morel. Let me say that I know nothing about foraging for wild mushrooms. The real potential of picking a poisonous one has, to my Mom’s relief, scared me off. But THIS one, was too tempting to ignore. I did some research and determined that it was indeed a true morel…so we cooked and ate it (apparently it is wise to thoroughly cook wild mushrooms).
Eating wild mushrooms isn’t something to do wily-nily. If you want to go mushroom-hunting, do lots of research, find a guide and/or join a mycological club.
Luckily, you can get a variety of interesting mushrooms in the grocery store, no guide book or bug spray needed.
Mushrooms are an excellent source of B and D vitamins and a good source of many minerals including selenium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc. They are low in calories and are purported to have cancer prevention properties, so eat up!
Now I love a good burger, but I’ve been reading Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters”and want to incorporate less meat into my diet. Bittman encourages people to be “Lessmeatarians.” Bittman notes that global livestock production is responsible for more greenhouse gasses than transportation. He believes that small changes in people’s diet can help decrease global warming while improving your health. Eating less meat is one of the changes he recommends (cutting junk food out of your diet is another one). Bittman states “simple lifestyle choices (can) help you loose weight, reduce your risk of many long-term or chronic diseases, save you real money, and help stop global warming.” Sounds good to me.
A large portabella mushroom has about 30 calories. A 6-ounce hamburger patty weighs in at around 350 calories (more or less depending on how lean the ground beef is). Easy to see how the mushroom burger is a healthier choice. I won’t be swapping fungi for meat all summer, but once in a while it’s an inexpensive, flavorful, healthy substitute. Save the planet, slim your waist, and get a delicious meal all at the same time. That’s hard to pass up.
4 large Portobello mushroom caps, 4-5 inches in diameter
4 whole-wheat buns
4 thick slices of onion
1 cup Blue cheese (substitute your preferred cheese)
Few handfuls of arugula (or other greens)
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 garlic clove, minced
Dash cayenne pepper
-Select burger-sized, plump, firm mushrooms. Avoid limp, dried or slimy looking ones (if not using right away, store in the refrigerator wrapped in a paper towel).
-Clean mushrooms with a mushroom brush or damp cloth and remove their stems (I save the stems in a freezer bag for stock).
-Place in a dish, stem/gill side up.
-For the marinade, whisk together the vinegar, water, honey, garlic, cayenne pepper and olive oil and drizzle the marinade over the mushrooms.
-Cover and marinate for 30 minutes or more, turning mushrooms once.
-Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium high heat.
-Brush the grill with oil.
-Grill the mushrooms on medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side. The longer you cook the mushrooms, the meatier they get, just be sure not to burn them.
-With the gill side up, place blue cheese on the mushroom and cook until melted
-Place each mushroom on a bun and top with an onion slice, arugula, a tomato slice (if in season) and whatever condiments you prefer (like homemade mayo, ketchup, and mustard).