Monday, September 22, 2014


The Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas baking season is just around the corner and I decided to stock the pantry with baking supplies.  Well, I was shocked at the increased price of good quality vanilla; some of it is as high as $15 for just a few ounces!!

With that in mind, I decided to make my own vanilla, although I had NO CLUE how to do it. After some Internet research, I was thrilled to learn that the process was SUPER EASY and only takes TWO ingredients (vodka and vanilla beans)!!

At first I was concerned because vanilla beans are not always in my budget. I like McCormick brand spices, but their price for TWO vanilla beans is over $10!! Homemade vanilla extract would be outrageously expensive at those prices, so back to the Internet.

I discovered that the best vanilla extracts are NOT made out of the same kind of vanilla beans that you bake with (whew!! That was a relief.). Vanilla extract is made with Grade B vanilla extract beans (I didn't even know there was such a thing). Google it and you will find a lot of places to buy them. Just make sure they are labeled MADAGASCAR BOURBON EXTRACT GRADE B VANILLA BEANS.

The 6" beans aren't very pretty to look at (they aren't plump and supple and you CAN NOT bake with them), but they make GREAT extract. When you order them, they will arrive looking like this:
1 quart of vodka  (see note)
4 ounces of Madagascar  Grade B extract vanilla beans

This makes a LOT of vanilla, but I have in mind to put it in pretty little bottles and tuck it into holiday gift baskets, so a quart of extract is a good thing.

Don't waste your money on expensive vodka, thinking that this will make better does not.  Good news!! The cheapest vodka works just as well as expensive vodka for this project!!

You will need a jar that is a bit bigger than a quart since the vodka AND vanilla beans have to fit in it (I learned that the hard way).

Cut the grade B extract vanilla beans into 1/2" pieces and put them into the quart of vodka..........that's it!!  Now all you have to do is shake the bottle a little (every few days) and after a month, it will be extract!! What could be easier?

Before using the extract (or giving it away), strain the spent vanilla bean pieces out of the extract. If you don't want ANY vanilla seeds in the extract, run the finished product through a coffee filter.

Decorative bottles like this are available online for about $2.50 each, they would make a pretty gift.

This extract will be good forever, or until the very last drop. No need to refrigerate it.

This photo is only 2 weeks into the extract process
(see how rich it looks already?)
For those of you who are concerned that homemade vanilla
is not as "strong" as commercial vanilla...never fear!!
This homemade vanilla is very potent (in a good way) and
you will LOVE it!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


When I was a little girl I watched my (very German) Aunt Welentina Ezlinger make pickles in her basement. I climbed up on a stool and watched her line up the hot jars and put "seeds" in each one. She then packed the jars tight with cucumbers from her garden and poured a hot vinegar liquid over them. That was almost 60 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was so impressed!! I think of her when I make this recipe.

We love these bread and butter pickles!! They are fresh and bright tasting and are worlds better than commercial pickles!!

4 cups water
1/4  cup pickling salt (not regular salt)
10 large pickling cucumbers
ice cubes (I use 2 trays of ice cubes)
3 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
Wash the pickling cucumbers and slice them into 1/8" slices (I cut mine just a tad thicker than 1/8").
In a LARGE bowl, mix 4 cups water and 1/4 cup pickling salt until well dissolved. Add cucumbers and ice cubes and gently swirl, making sure the slices are all submerged.  Let cucumber slices soak for two hours.
After 2 hours, drain the cucumbers (throw away the liquid) and rinse completely with fresh water (I rinse mine 2 or 3 times).
In a large/deep pan, mix 3 cups sugar, 2 cups water, 2 cups apple cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons ground turmeric, 2 teaspoons mustard seed and 1/2 teaspoon celery seed. Bring this mixture to a boil.
Reduce heat to LOW and put the cucumber slices in. Stir gently and let the cucumber sit in the hot liquid until they are all hot (but not cooked). Don't let the cucumbers boil.
Remove the slices from the hot liquid (with tongs) and pack directly into sterilized PINT size mason jars (pack as many as you can get into the jars...pack tightly).
When the jars are all packed with cucumber slices, bring the pot of vinegar liquid back to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour into the jars of cucumber slices, to within 1/4" of the top. Run a CLEAN knife around the sides of the jars to remove any air bubbles.
Wipe off the rims of the jars with a clean moist towel and screw on the two piece lids.
If you are going to use these pickles within 2-3 months, you can just keep them in the fridge at this stage.  If you want to keep them for a lot longer or if you want to store them in the pantry, you'll have to process the PINTS immediately in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
Whether you keep them in the fridge, or put them through a hot water bath, you will have to let the cucumbers "pickle" for 2 or 3 weeks before you eat them, gently "shaking" the jars once a day.


Saturday, September 13, 2014


These cookies are WONDERFULLY SOFT, rich, flavorful and easy to make. The recipe makes about 3 dozen big 4" cookies and if you store them in an airtight container, they will stay soft and chewy (they are totally addicting!!)

Soft Coconut Drop Cookies are PERFECT lunch box cookies, bake sale cookies, potluck cookies or "anytime cookies". They are delicious.

1 cup butter flavored shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut (lightly packed)
1 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

Cream the shortening, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating in between each egg.

Add the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, coconut and nuts (if you are using nuts) and beat until well mixed (batter will be thick).

Take a well rounded tablespoon of cookie dough batter and roll it into a ball. Place on a greased cookie sheet spaced 3" apart (I use parchment paper instead of greasing the pan). Bake at 350° for 11-14 minutes (my electric oven takes a full 14 minutes). Leave the cookies on the cookie sheet a minute or two before you remove them.

After they are cooled, store the cookies in an airtight container.

Note: Recipe calls for butter flavored shortening (I use butter flavored Crisco). I'm sure they could be made with butter instead, but they will bake differently and probably spread out a lot more. I also don't think they would stay soft and chewy.