Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I have wanted to try my hand at making homemade vanilla extract for years, but I always forget to plan far enough ahead, since it takes several months.  This past August, I finally remembered, and got it right this year!!
All you need is quality vodka, and quality vanilla beans. Yep. That's it!!
Then you combine, and let sit for a long time, shaking every couple weeks, until it is ready! 
I did a taste/smell test, and it really is just identical to the real thing I have in my pantry that I bought at the store.

I was inspired by this post from Averie Cooks

These are the vanilla beans I used.  I found they do mold eventually in the pantry, so only buy what you will use in a couple months.  Amazon has a lot of great sellers. Make sure they seem like they will be fresh/moist. They are several different varieties of beans, which all have a slightly different flavor. I prefer the bourbon-Madagascar, but try any of them!

For the vodka, I used an organic potato vodka, but you can use anything. Even Smirnoff or Sky may be just fine, but I leaned toward a bit higher quality vodka, just to ensure the final product was great.

Slice the beans down the center, and scrape the beans out of the pod.  Place the beans, plus the whole pod into the vodka. The more flavor added, the better! Use a good handful of vanilla bean pods for a bottle of vodka.  
I actually just poured off some of the vodka (into a cocktail!), to make room, and then use the actual vodka bottle for my container, instead of transferring it into another jar or bottle.  You want to store it in a dark blue or amber bottle anyway when it is finished, for optimal longevity, so I figured this dark blue glass bottle was perfect.  Store it in a cool dry place until ready. Then, you can transfer into cute little bottles.  I bought these 2 ounce round amber bottles, with lids on Amazon, and they are the perfect size.

Making vanilla extract at home definitely is cost effective in the long run. Plus, they make great gifts! I found people to be pretty surprised to learn you can make the extract yourself! They loved the treat.
Vanilla is great for baking, and can also be used to flavor coffee, oatmeal (a tip from my Dad who received one of these bottles for Christmas!), and you can also simmer some in water on the stove to make your house smell amazing!

I found the perfect vanilla themed labels from Jessica at How About Orange!
Find the free printable HERE

I only used the vanilla flower-looking labels, hole punched the center circle, and attached to the bottle with twine.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Peppermint Sugar Scrub

I was big on the homemade gifts this year for Christmas.
I took this body scrub recipe I made for my friend's baby shower party favors, and changed the extract to peppermint for a festive holiday gift!

I love these body scrubs.  They are great for softening hands, feet, (legs...arms...!), face (avoid eyes, especially with peppermint), and I love it for my lips, too!

Peppermint Essential Oil

Just mix up the coconut oil, granulated sugar, and essential oil, and pour into jars!

I found these cute tins at The Container Store, but I also used some small 4oz mason jars (which proved to be a bit easier to open, too)

Add some twine, cute, little labels, and you've got a great homemade gift for Christmas, or any occasion!!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Christy's Mexican Cauliflower Soup

You guys, my sweet, adorable, amazing sister made the best soup! And she is here to share it with us. 
Thanks Seester!

Hello everyone!!!! Mini-Amy, here! Aka the soux chef and random hand model in Amy's blog posts :)

Alright, so clearly my sister got the crafty and cooking genes, but every now and again I happen to stumble into a happy accident of a good meal creation. And today, I decided to share my weird yet actually really awesome dinner idea!

So I think (I hope...) we're all guilty of doing this: have you ever had one of those meals where you just throw a bunch if stuff together and you'd feel kind if embarrassed if anyone else was seeing the random mix of leftovers and cheese concoction you were eating? Well! I had this experience, only...the result was kind of amazing. AND healthy! 
So I will call this...Mexican cauliflower soup. Stick with me here, it's good. And it took me about 10 minutes start to finish. Hooray!

 In a blender, mix: 
chicken broth, cauliflower florets (steamed and cooled), about half a tablespoon minced garlic, one slice of jalapeño, about one and a half tablespoons of butter (or some butter-like substance) and *the key random/awesome ingredient* red enchilada sauce!! Blend until soup consistency - slowly pour in a little more broth until you get the consistency you want.

Pour into a pan and heat over low heat. While this is warming, prepare some sort of rice or quinoa - I used trader joe's microwaveable brown rice. Cook accordingly. Scoop a couple large spoonfuls into a bowl, and pour the heated soup over the rice and stir until they're mixed.

Lastly...the toppings!!! I added some canned kidney beans that I warmed up, a dollop of sour cream, and those little wonton salad toppers (told you it was random!) but SO delish!!!

(...okay okay I added some bacon bits too. And it was a solid choice.)

Mix together and enjoy!!! You're eating vegetables, brown rice, and protein in the beans - but it's a lot more fun! Hey, and if you dull down the spice, could be great for the kids too!

Ta da!!!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Best of...Healthy Recipes for the New Year!

I'm not big on New Year's Resolutions, or big drastic changes, but I always try to get back to eating healthy after a few days of overindulging; and that cycle happens quite frequently over the holidays!

Check out these healthy recipe favorites - perfect for starting off a new year!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Sparkly Vanilla Bean Fudge {Free Printable Thank You Tag}

So, at my New Year's Day Brunch, I sent all my lovely guests home with some homemade vanilla bean fudge! It is super easy to make!
I did have some real vanilla bean pods "lying around" from making homemade vanilla extract (So many things to tell you about!! One at a time!), but you could just use the vanilla extract, or buy this awesome vanilla bean paste!

I used this Fudge Recipe, the vanilla bean one, and omitted the messy caramel sauce layer, as I wanted these to look nice and neat in their little bags. (But don't get me wrong, it sounds amazing with that part, too!) You just melt white chocolate and canned sweetened condensed milk (No one ever said this was healthy fudge...) together, and then add the vanilla beans, vanilla extract, and sea salt. I mixed the salt in, but you could sprinkle on top if you want.

BUT, don't let me forget the BEST PART.
I added glitter.
Yup. You're welcome. It was amazing.

Per this post here, I bought (and am obsessed with!) edible glitter dust in the baking section of Michael's, and sprinkled it all over the fudge!
Can you say All Dressed Up for New Year's?! Everything New Year's needs some sparkle!
I love all the pearl dust colors - especially the gold, white, and silver. So fun!!

There is a technique, too. If you actually sprinkle it between your fingers, it will clump and be too thick. What you really are better off doing, a la Tinkerbell, and it does kind of glitter the whole kitchen... (Not a bad thing), is put a little bit in your palm, and blow it gently over the tops of the fudge. It makes a much finer, more delicate layer of sparkle! Yay fairy dust!!

I cut my 8x8 pan into 36 small squares, and put 4 in each gift bag as a little take home treat.
If you are keeping these for awhile in a really warm house, you may want to keep them in the fridge until a few hours before you hand them out. Your call - they don't really melt, but they do soften, and I didn't want them to be messy. I also didn't want them cold or rock hard, though. See how it goes!

I made these little labels to add to the gift bags, in keeping with my New Year's theme.

Here is the file: I think you can save this image/photo, and then print some for yourself! I did 9 to a page when I printed them.

Hope you all are having a great New Year!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year! - Hawaiian Roll Caramel Bread Pudding

Hi guys!
Sorry I have been away for awhile, enjoying the holiday season.

I stayed in this year on New Year's Eve, and instead, hosted a New Year's Day brunch!

It was so much fun having friends over to celebrate the new year.  Guests were encouraged to:
"Come in your cozy pajamas or sweats, come in last night's sequined ensemble, or, heck, even wear that ugly Christmas sweater one last time!"

We had one of those great travel Starbucks coffee things!

A Mimosa bar, and an awesome Bloody Mary bar my sister put together for me!

I made these omelet muffins with a cheesy hash brown crust!

And I think my favorite part of the brunch was a bread pudding I made with Hawaiian rolls!

Hawaiian Roll Caramel Bread Pudding

I used Paula Dean's recipe for bread pudding, because... butter.
I omitted the pecans, and skipped the raw egg and brandy in the sauce.
And I replaced the Italian bread with torn up Hawaiian sweet rolls!

You can find the original recipe here.

I served this with a homemade whipped cream.

I also sent friends home from the party with homemade vanilla bean fudge!

Stay tuned for that recipe, and a link to my printable Thank You tags!

Happy New Year, friends!!