My earliest attempts in food making began with baking. I think it was the chocolate that acted as the inspiration. Here and there I made dinners and side dishes for family gatherings. But, what I really appreciated was the baking; the chocolate cakes; brownies of different sorts; dark chocolate. It was one of my most loved activities, next to listening to Sufjan Stevens and exploring.
To be clear, chocolate was my most loved activity, not necessarily baking. But, alas, I baked more. And then began cooking more often. And over the years I have found that cooking and baking are true arts. They are beautiful, messy, imperfect, and inspiring. Not only is it an art; food connects people.
And we should eat well. We should eat food that makes us feel good and is satisfying. Meals should have rich, satisfying flavors. Of course, not all of our meals are going to turn out this way. Most of my meals are not perfect. In my experience, working with food and drink is a never-ending series of trials that I learn from, and sometimes stumble upon a truly amazing dish. Most of the time, there is plenty of room to improve.
One thing I have noticed that makes a difference is quality of ingredients. We’ve been buying more seasonal foods because they taste better. An apple ripened on the tree in September is going to taste much better than one you buy at a store in February. Seasonal foods are just more satisfying to your palate.
Pasta. I was gifted an imperia pasta machine for Christmas and it has been so wonderful making pasta fresh. There is absolutely a difference in taste. The quality of ingredients matter, but I think beginning to focus on fresh is important, especially if you cannot always afford the more expensive quality ingredients.
This brings me to the Vanilla Extract. This is something where freshness doesn’t matter as much because the vanilla beans soak in alcohol. The alcohol extracts and preserves the vanilla flavor. Buying vanilla extract from the store is perfectly fine, but making your own offers you the ability to control the flavors. And, you’ll have vanilla extract forever. You just keep feeding it with vanilla beans and alcohol.
The recipe is simple.
3-5 vanilla beans per 8 ounces of alcohol
Patience (at least 2 months of storage in a dark cabinet).
You must slit the vanilla beans down the middle to release the vanilla and allow the alcohol to penetrate the whole bean.
The vanilla beans should be of quality. I ordered mine from amazon. Make sure you get vanilla beans that are still oily.
Now, lets talk about the alcohol. Most extracts use vodka. Vodka doesn’t have much flavor, so you end up with a very pure flavoring. I have made lavender extract with vodka and it tastes very floral and lavender-y. For lavender, rosemary, etc. I would absolutely suggest using vodka because the flavors are fragile and light.
Vanilla is different. Vanilla is a strong flavor that has a lot of depth. And in my opinion, vanilla is better in bourbon. Maybe it’s because I love whiskey. But I think bourbon adds so much to the flavor to the vanilla extract. I buy relatively cheap bourbon, i.e. Jack Daniels. Just be ready to receive nods of approval and gazes of disapproval while leaving the grocery store with your giant jug of bourbon.
This new year has been busy and lovely all at the same time. I have been volunteering more often with the forest preserve, watercoloring, planning trips, dreaming of future travels, enjoying my family, cooking more, and enjoying the weather.
I am listening to this. His show was phenomenal.