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  1. Tuesday, June 4

    The Magic of Vanilla Bean Paste + Vanilla Vanilla Muffins

    Another fabulous discovery from the Favorite Things gift exchange I went to last December was vanilla bean paste. It’s so cool!

    nielsen-massey vanilla bean paste

    And just why is it so cool? You get the flavor and pretty speckliness (new word alert!) of vanilla beans without the work. It’s less expensive than vanilla beans, too. Vanilla bean paste is more viscous rather than paste-like, so it’s easy to pour and measure. It also is good for use in sauces and batter where you don’t want the vanilla extract to make things more liquidy (new word alert!).

    nielsen-massey vanilla bean paste

    You can substitute vanilla bean paste in recipes for both vanilla extract and vanilla beans. This stuff is super versatile!

    • If you want to substitute vanilla bean paste for vanilla extract, just measure the same amount that the recipe calls for. Easy peasy!
    • If you want to substitute vanilla bean paste for vanilla beans, use 1 tablespoon of paste for each whole vanilla bean called for.

    You can purchase vanilla bean paste at Williams-Sonoma, but you can also find it on Amazon where it’s cheaper. I use Nielsen-Massey’s vanilla bean paste. Apparently Trader Joe’s once carried it, but it has been discontinued so don’t bother looking for it there if you hear rumors!

    vanilla bean paste muffins

    I finally bought a bottle myself and used it for the first time today. I decided to make my friend Kristen’s Vanilla Vanilla Muffins. The muffins are simple, vanilla goodness. I don’t have one thing to say or change about the recipe, so be sure to click through to Kristen’s beautiful site to make them yourself!

    I can’t wait to use my new vanilla bean paste in more recipes! Oh the possibilities!

    In fact, I created a collection of 21 very vanilla recipes over on Babble that would be perfect for using vanilla bean paste in. Be sure to check them out!

    Also, please feel free to share your favorite recipes featuring vanilla!

    UPDATE 3/16/16: You can buy this vanilla paste in a large bottle on Amazon for significantly less than anywhere else. It’s awesome! Stock up!


  2. Wednesday, June 6

    Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

    Back when I first got my ice cream maker, I was addicted to making frozen yogurt. It’s just so easy and fast to throw together…and it is sooooo yummy. But I wasn’t all that convinced that making homemade ice cream was worth the trouble. I made it a few times, but the recipe I was using (which came from a reputable ice cream source, by the way) left something to be desired…there was a bit of a greasy after-feel and, I don’t know, it was just good, not great.

    I decided last week to give homemade ice cream another try. I searched for recipes on the Internet, didn’t really find one that pulled me in, and then I remembered my Cook’s Illustrated cookbook sitting on the shelf. I felt confident that they would have a good ice cream recipe and decided I would use it, even before reviewing it.

    Up until the moment we ate the stuff I was still wondering if it was worth the work. Making the ice cream takes time and planning. As I stood at the stove stirring and stirring and stirring, I just wasn’t so sure it would be worth it.

    And then. THEN. We ate the ice cream. It was totally worth it. This recipe kicks you-know-what. Flavor? Fantastic. Texture? Creamy and dreamy. Even after sitting in the freezer a few days, the ice cream never got icy. It was miraculous. I’m making it again for sure…I even bought more cream and whole milk today to make more!

    Tomorrow I will share the chocolate ice cream recipe I tried, which was equally as delicious. Mmmmmmmmm…

    Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
     
    From the Cook’s Illustrated cookbook
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Ingredients
    • 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract (I used Penzey’s vanilla extract)
    • 1¾ cups heavy cream
    • 1¼ cups whole milk
    • ½ plus 2 tablespoons (4½ ounces) sugar
    • ⅓ cup light corn syrup
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • 6 large egg yolks
    Instructions
    1. Place an 8 or 9 inch metal baking pan in the freezer.
    2. If using vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise. Using tip of paring knife, scrape out vanilla seeds. Combine vanilla bean, seeds, cream, milk, 6 tablespoons sugar, corn syrup, and salt in medium saucepan. Heat over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is steaming steadily and registers 175 degrees, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat. (Jane note: mine wasn’t steaming all that steadily, just a bit, but I took it off the heat once it hit 175 degrees. PS…if you don’t have an instant read electronic thermometer, you should get that along with your Cook’s Illustrated cookbook.)
    3. While cream mixture heats, whisk egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar in bowl until smooth, about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk 1 cup heated cream mixture into egg yolks mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and registers 180 degrees, 7 to 14 minutes. (Jane note: I think I only went to about 178 degrees…it seems like mine got stuck there, so I got impatient and called it a day at that point.) Immediately pour custard into large bowl and let cool until no longer steaming, 10-20 minutes. Transfer 1 cup custard to small bowl. Cover both bowls with plastic wrap. Place large bowl in refrigerator and small bowl in freezer and let cool completely, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. (Small bowl of custard will freeze solid.) (Jane note: I don’t think my small bowl was frozen completely solid, but it was frozen for sure.)
    4. Remove custards from fridge and freezer. Scrape frozen custard from small bowl into large bowl of custard. Stir occasionally until frozen custard has fully dissolved. (Jane note: I just realized I didn’t even read this step…I just mixed them together until it was pretty evenly mixed, but not dissolved, and then tossed it in the ice cream machine…no waiting arround.) Strain custard through fine-mesh strainer and transfer to ice cream machine. (Jane note: again, I totally didn’t read this part of the directions…didn’t do the strainer! Everything was fine, but it’s probably best to strain in case you get some lumps while cooking the custard.) Churn until mixture resembles thick soft-serve ice cream and registers about 21 degrees, 15-25 minutes. Transfer to metal pan, and press plastic wrap on surface. Freeze for 1 hour until edges are firm, then pack into a storage container with tight fitting lid and store in freezer up to 5 days. (Jane note: Cook’s Illustrated recommends freezing an additional 2 hours at this point…of course it’s delicious when it’s totally frozen, but it is also delicious ever step of the way! We totally ate it right when it was done churning…and we also ate it later after freezing. It was awesome both ways!) Can be frozen up to 5 days.


  3. Tuesday, December 13

    Hot Vanilla

    Today’s recipe involves drinking butter. Yep, you heard me. We are going to drink butter. And it’s going to be awesome.

    Every time I make bread pudding, I want to drink the milk mixture that goes into the recipe. So today I whipped up a variation of that milk mixture and drank it. And just like that ‘hot vanilla’ was born! (Okay, okay, maybe not born. I did a google search and turns out hot vanilla is not new, but whatever. I’m just pretending google doesn’t exist.)

    I am officially a fan of hot vanilla, especially my version (I know, so humble). It’s sweet, has a nice cinnamon-vanilla flavor, and the butter gives it a silky, almost-savory twist. Perfect for a cold winter day!

    Here’s to drinking butter!

    Hot Vanilla
     
    From Jane Maynard, This Week for Dinner
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Serves: 2
    Ingredients
    • 2 cups milk
    • 1½ tablespoons butter
    • ¼ cup sugar
    • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • pinch of salt
    Instructions
    1. Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan. Whisk together over low to medium heat until butter melts and milk is as hot as you like it.


  4. Thursday, February 11

    Homemade Oreos

    No matter your opinion of Valentine’s Day, we can all agree it’s a good excuse to binge on chocolate, right? So, that’s what I’m giving you this week.  Chocolate. Because that, my friends, is how I show my love.

    oreo2b web

    For the Super Bowl, my friend Rachel made us two utterly delectable chocolate treats. Today I share with you her homemade oreos.  Tomorrow…well, it’s a surprise! But it is most certainly Valentine’s Day worthy!

    I’m not a huge fan of store-bought Oreos. I know, how can I call myself an American? But even I, the evil Oreo-disser, loved these cookies. It’s certainly a derivative of the classic Oreo, but much so much better.

    Rachel found the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, one of the best food blogs out there.

    Homemade Oreos
     
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Serves: 25-30 cookies
    Ingredients
    • Chocolate Wafers:
    • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
    • ½ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • 1½ cups sugar
    • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
    • 1 large egg
    • Filling:
    • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
    • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
    • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    Instructions
    1. Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°F.
    2. In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.
    3. Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.
    4. To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.
    5. To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a ½ inch, round tip, pipe teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie. Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream.
    Notes
    Thank you, Deb, for a great recipe! Thank you, Rachel, for making them for us!


  5. Tuesday, December 15

    Homemade Vanilla Hot Chocolate

    This year I decided our neighbor & teacher holiday gift would be homemade vanilla hot chocolate. I figured it would be easier than making and decorating oodles of cookies. I was wrong. Well, only because I QUADRUPLED the recipe. And ended up having to grind about 10 pounds of chocolate. With a Cuisiniart mini-prep. Yeah, it was a feat.

    homemade hot chocolate web

    BUT…the vanilla hot chocolate is delicious! And a fun, unique gift to give friends for the holidays! You’ll find the recipe at the bottom of this post.

    A few quick notes. I have a Cuisinart mini-prep, which is what I used to grind the chocolate. It works fine…but if you DO have a bigger food processor, use it!

    This is the recipe I used the vanilla beans for. I saved the sugar-coated bean pods after I was done making the vanilla sugar…I figure I can use them in other recipes, even though the seeds are gone.

    homemade hot chocolate preparation web

    If you plan on making TONS and TONS and TONS like I did…you’re going to need BIG bowls. I ended up having to use three giant bowls and mixing all the ingredients between the three bowls, trying to evenly distribute the ingredients by mixing and remixing the contents of each bowl.

    bowls web

    No matter what amount you make, be prepared to have chocolate coating your kitchen. Also, I wore a towel over my face because I was literally inhaling cocoa powder when mixing it all together. That all said, if you don’t double (or triple…or quadruple!) the recipe, you’re not going to run into any of these issues. 😉

    Here was the final product. Aren’t they cute? I used some free gift tag templates from HP with matching ribbon.

    jarred homemade hot chocolate web

    Homemade Vanilla Hot Chocolate
     
    From Epicurious, makes about 10 cups
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Ingredients
    • 4 cups granulated sugar
    • ½ vanilla bean, split crosswise (see tips, below)
    • 1½ pounds high-quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
    • 8 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
    • 2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process (see tips, below)
    Instructions
    1. Place sugar in large bowl. Split half vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape seeds into sugar, and add pod. Work seeds in with your fingers. Cover snugly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.
    2. In food processor fitted with metal blade, process semisweet chocolate and milk chocolate until finely ground.
    3. Remove pod from sugar. Add ground chocolate and cocoa powder to sugar and whisk to blend.
    4. Store mix airtight at room temperature for up to six months.
    5. To serve, Jane’s instructions: I heat 2 cups of milk over the stove and whisk in about ⅓ cup of the mix. You can also heat the milk in the microwave and it works…but the stove is a little better. If you like it richer, add more mix!
    Notes
    Jane Note: I used 16 oz mason jars and was able to put ~1¾ cups of mix in each jar. When I quadrupled the recipe, I filled 19 jars, plus a little left over.

    Tips:
    •Save the other half of the vanilla bean for another use, such as a second batch of vanilla sugar, which keeps indefinitely and can be used in baking, coffee, or simply to sprinkle on fruit or waffles.
    •Dutch process cocoa has been treated with an alkaline solution, which gives it a darker color and less bitter flavor and makes it dissolve more easily.

     


  6. Tuesday, December 23

    Vanilla Hot Chocolate Mix

    Need to warm up now that we’re in the dead of winter?

    Then hop to it and make this great vanilla hot chocolate mix!  Our friends the Neilsons brought this mix over the other night (we have been so spoiled this year by homemade yumminess from so many friends!).  Nate and I have had hot chocolate the last two nights. I’m considering NOT sharing with Cate.  Yeah, I’m a great mom, eh?

    Here’s the recipe, if you want to make it for friends…or yourself!

    Vanilla Hot Chocolate Mix
     
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 4 cups granulated sugar
    • ½ vanilla bean, split crosswise (see tips, below)
    • 1½ pounds high-quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
    • 8 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
    • 2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process (see tips, below)
    Instructions
    1. Place sugar in large bowl. Split half vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape seeds into sugar, and add pod. Work seeds in with your fingers. Cover snugly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.
    2. In food processor fitted with metal blade, process semisweet chocolate and milk chocolate until finely ground, using 4-second pulses. (Process in two batches if necessary.)
    3. Remove pod from sugar. Add ground chocolate and cocoa powder to sugar and whisk to blend.
    4. Store mix airtight at room temperature for up to six months.
    5. To serve:
    6. For each serving, heat 8 ounces milk in small saucepan over medium heat until scalded (or microwave 2½ minutes at full power). Whisk in ¼ to ⅓ cup mix. Serve with unsweetened softly whipped cream or marshmallows.
    Notes
    Tips:
    •Save the other half of the vanilla bean for another use, such as a second batch of vanilla sugar, which keeps indefinitely and can be used in baking, coffee, or simply to sprinkle on fruit or waffles.
    •Dutch process cocoa has been treated with an alkaline solution, which gives it a darker color and less bitter flavor and makes it dissolve more easily. Droste is a good brand.