Wednesday, January 28, 2015


These are the three I'm starting with.
One of my goals for this year is to explore new flavors and cuisines in the kitchen. And since I absolutely love baking sandwich and artisan breads, I'm starting with some flour. I order a lot of Bob's Red Mill products, I like them. I can order them at Amazon and they bring it right to my door. And many of the products are available in these smaller sizes, I can try them, and if I like them, then I'll order a big batch.

First one I tried: SPELT
The plan for this one was for some bread. Nothing fancy, just plain bread. And I didn't want an artisan bread that it's going to take 2 or 3 days to make. I want to make dough in the morning, bake in the afternoon, and eat still warm bread with my dinner. That's just me, so I'm going to wing together my own recipe and work it until I get something I'm happy with.
Here's my ingredients and the amounts I used. This stuff and some water are all you need to make a loaf that's not bad at all!
Here's the crumb shot, it's a little denser than I like, but it was very tender and had a wonderful flavor.

And it holds butter quite well. I have a five point rating system I use for bread. And here are my five criteria:
     1. Does it look good?
     2. Does it smell good?
     3. Does it taste good?
     4. Will it hold butter?
     5. Was it fun to make?
I realize that other people have different criteria, these are simply the questions I ask myself to determine if I'm going to make it again someday. And I will make this again, but I'm going to adjust the recipe and try to open up the crumb a little bit.
Next I tried: TEFF
This is interesting stuff. It may indeed be a nutritional powerhouse, but to me it tastes like dirt. And not that good garden soil type dirt, it's more of that middle of an old, dry dirt road dust. I didn't care for it much. The plan was to make an Ethiopian flat bread called injera. And the recipe for that called for a starter. So I made that.
And here it is in it's happy little bowl where it will be allowed to ferment for five days.

And in the meantime, I made these peanut butter cookies from the recipe on the back of the package. These were very delicate cookies, if you looked at them hard they would break into pieces. And to me they tasted like you had dropped you peanut butter cookie in dirt, but ate it anyways. At this point I really wasn't sure that I was going to like anything made with teff.
But by the time it had fermented long enough to develop a hooch, I liked it much better. And I did try making the injera.

I had enough batter to make 4 injera flat breads. I glued the first one I tried to the cast iron skillet I was using, to the point where it took an industrial solvent to get it off the surface of the pan. So I switched to a non-stick skillet and got this.
The third one I tried, came out of the non-stick pan in pieces, but it was still edible. The fourth one became one with the non-stick pan. Not sure what kind of an issue I was having, but I've never had anything stick to pans as bad as this flat bread did. And I also discovered that I don't have the proper seasonings to make a true Ethiopian culinary experience, so I went Mexican. I don't care for curry, so here's chicken in a spicy red chile sauce, don't do lentils either, but I can do refried beans, and a side of Spanish rice. The bread went really well with the chicken, and I will try this again, until I can get it right.

And after all that, I'm holding off on the Kamut experience until later, but I will keep you all posted!

Monday, January 19, 2015



As I mentioned last week, I'm brewing my own vanilla extracts. I started this project late last September, and it's still a work in progress, but I will show you how I started it and let you know how I think it's going so far.

I grew up using Mexican vanillas. They are wonderfully strong and required that you use only a fraction of what the recipe called for. Finding anything authentically Mexican is not an easy task in my current location in Interior Alaska. I had a big bottle that I got from my sister-in-law. She had friends who vacationed in Mexico, bought it back and hated it. It lasted for years and only seemed to get better with age. And by the time that was gone, I had visited a wonderful ethnic market in Chicago and bought another large bottle. But finally, it was all gone too.

I tried the Mexican vanillas that I found in my local stores, but sadly they all tasted just like American made vanillas, so I decided that I would try making my own.

The first step was to find some vanilla beans that didn't cost $12 each, so here I come!

Vanilla bean selection from Amazon.Com
I realize that these are all Madagascar beans and that my final product will lack the depth of flavor which would be realized by mixed different types of beans, but this is a first time thing, so I'm flavor shopping! So for less than $20, I got four different packs of beans, each had 10 beans in it, I'm okay with that.
Next step was to find a recipe. The beans came with a recipe card, but you know, I'm never one to settle for a single option, so I hit the internet and asked.
I would not be exaggerating to say there's a million recipes out there, according to this there are over 24 MILLION of them! I read several and then struck out on my own. What I learned was that vanilla extract could be brewed using any number of alcohol bases, and that if you wanted it to taste like store bought vanilla you needed to add some sugar. And this inspired me to try different liquors and different sweeteners.
I chose Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, Jim Beam Bourbon, Suaza Tequila Gold, and Wolfshmidt Vodka. And because my liquors went kind of dark to light in color, I decided to follow suit with the sugars. I used molasses (in the rum), brown sugar (in the bourbon), an organic turbinado sugar (in the tequila) and just plain white sugar (in the vodka).
When you're reading through those millions of recipes and blogs about brewing vanilla extract, you will find several ways to handle the beans and what kind of container the extract is to be brewed in. Now I am not a vanilla purist by any stretch of the imagination, so some recycled tea bottles and some scissors to snip the beans into pieces worked for me! And yes, I scoured those tea bottles, soaked them in bleach, rinsed and rewashed, sterilized and called it good!!
And here's what it ended up looking like.

And each bottle got about 8 1/2 ounces of alcohol, 1 tablespoon of sweetener, and one package of chopped into pieces vanilla beans. And I labelled each bottle to alcohol used, type and grade of bean, and sweetener added.

In just three days it was already making good color. But it still smelled just like what ever booze was used! At this point, I am still shaking each bottle once a day.

By the end of October, you could smell the vanilla coming through. By now, I'm only shaking the bottles about once a week.
By the end of November, you could tell it was going to be vanilla, the booze smell was still pretty strong, but the vanilla smell was awesome. And I start shaking it up maybe, once or twice a month.
And by December I was busy with holiday baking and totally spaced out my monthly vanilla brew update. Right up until I ran out of my regular vanilla extract while making cookies, and so I used some of the spiced rum vanilla. It worked wonderfully in some dark chocolate cookies, but you could tell it needed to be aged some more!
So now, in the middle of January, I'm going to do a real update. Here's each bottle and what I thought of the smell and the taste. I got them all laid out...

...and then decided I should shake them up, get the flavor going before I tasted them.

And now I have to wait for them to settle a little bit.
The vodka brew tastes just like store bought vanilla right now. There was only a faint whiff of vodka smell.
Here's the tequila brew. It smells like vanilla and tequila and flowers. It even leaves a floral aftertaste on your palette when you taste it. Definitely needs more aging.

The bourbon brew has a vanilla smell but still tastes like bourbon.
And the spiced rum tastes like you just want to pour it over some ice cubes and sit down and relax!! This one is by far my favorite so far, for mixing a cocktail it would be perfect right now. For using as vanilla, it's going to need some more time.
So there it is, my vanilla brewing update. I'm going to pack it all back into it's dark little corner and forget about it until mid-fall and see what happens. In the meantime, I'll pick up a bottle of store bought extract to use.
Until next week all, cook something wonderful and enjoy!




Monday, January 12, 2015

Cherry Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Crisp Pie

This is really good stuff! I'm trying to kind of kill two birds with one stone with this dessert. One of my all time favorite flavor combinations is cherry and chocolate, chocolate and cherry, throw in some cheesecake and crunchy, and I am approaching Nirvana!
And I even know when this addiction started. 1968. I know I'm dating myself, but that's when it was. It's the first year I was a cheerleader and after every game we went out for hot chocolate and pie, and cherry pie was always my choice. So for years I've been looking to satisfy that cherry chocolate craving! This pie does it!
The other thing I'm doing is trying to clear out the remnants of my holiday baking adventures. I've got lots of bits and pieces that need to be used up. And this does that too. It's a little ingredient intensive, so make all the substitutions you'd like, and at the end, I'll show you how to make a "no bake" version for summer when it's too hot to have the oven on!
And because I'm using up leftovers, I will include notes as I go along.
Crust Layer:
     1 pie crust for 8-9 inch pie
          I had a frozen pre-made crust, originally this was just going to be a plain ol' cherry pie but it turns out one of those crusts was actually puff pastry! So today, it's a singe crust pie. If you don't have a frozen one, you can always make your favorite from scratch.
Cherry Layers:
     1 can cherry pie filling
Cheesecake Layer:
     1 8 oz. block cream cheese, warmed
     1 egg
     1/4 cup white sugar or sugar substitute
     1/2 teaspoon vanilla
     1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Crisp Layer:
     3/4 cup packed brown sugar
     1/2 cup all purpose flour
     1/2 cup oats, quick cooking or old fashioned
     1/2 cup rice chex, crushed, totally optional
     1/3 cup margarine or butter, softened
     3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
     3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
          This is straight from a Betty Crocker recipe for apple crisp, and I will include a link. When I found out I only had one crust I had to have something to put on the top!
Let's put it all together! Step by step, make all the changes you need to along the way! Pre-heat your oven to 375.
Put your pie crust in your pie pan, and prick the bottom. I'm using an 8" pie pan. I did not grease, spray or oil the pan.
Now let's make the crisp part, because it sits well.
Put all the crisp ingredients in a small mixing bowl. I cut the butter into small cubes.

This is my secret ingredient, Rice Chex. It adds some crunch without really adding any distinct flavor. I have half a box of this cereal I need to use up, left over from some trail mix we made. It's totally optional. Just make sure to crush it all up before you add it in.

Now mix it all up and set it aside.
Time to start the cheesecake mixture.

I had two open packs of cream cheese and decided to use them both up. An 8oz. block would be optimum, but any where from 4-12 oz. will work in this recipe.
Put them in a bowl and microwave the cream cheese until it just starts to melt. Using a mixer, whip it until it's smooth and fluffy. Next I will add the rest of the cheesecake layer ingredients.
Today I'm using this. When I bought it, I thought I was getting straight up Truvia, I didn't realize it was a blend. So I want to get this used up so that I can go get some more! You can use just plain white sugar.
In it goes, 1/4 cup
One farm fresh egg goes in next, store eggs work too!
Next is the vanilla, I brew my own. This one is made with vodka and Grade AB split vanilla beans. I've got four separate brews going, I'll tell you about them next week.
In the bowl with everything else. Now once again, mix it until it's smooth and creamy.
Now let's add some chocolate chips, this is what I'm using. You can use what you have on hand, you'll need half a cup.
I started with a quarter cup, but decided I needed more!

So there's half a cup, just stir them in.
Now let's get it all assembled.
Pour half the cherry pie filling in the pie shell.

Now pour in the cheesecake mix.

Top that with the rest of the pie filling as best you can.

Sprinkle on the crisp layer.

In the oven it goes. I put mine on a cookie sheet because I was afraid it was going to run over, and it's just too cold to open my windows and clean the oven.

After 15 minutes it looked like this.

After 30 minutes it looked like this and I took it out of the oven. You can serve it warm or let it cool completely. But in any case, serve it with your favorite topping, whipped cream, cool whip or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!
This really is good!

Now if you want this and it's too hot to have an oven on, use a crust like this

or this

And make this your cheesecake filling. Let it set up in either the frig or the freezer. Don't forget to add the chocolate chips!
I hope you all enjoy this one. The link to the Betty Crocker recipe I used for the crisp topping is here: