Apricot-Almond Conserve

December 15th, 2010 / Comments 1

Apricot almond conserve, flavored with amaretto liquor is a golden mixture I made to send to my sons for their holiday dinner.

Apricot Con label Apricot Almond Conserve

Apricot Almond Conserve

I used scissors to snip half a pound of dried apricots into strips. I combined the apricot pieces with one cup of golden raisins and three cups of water. I covered the fruit and left it to soak overnight in the fridge.

The next morning, I tipped the fruit into a saucepan and added about a cup of water to make the liquid come halfway to the top of the fruit. I added the grated zest of one orange and simmered the mixture for fifteen minutes. When the fruit was very tender, I added one cup of orange juice and the juice of one lemon and two and a half cups of sugar and cooked the conserve, over medium heat, stirring constantly until it was thick, about thirty minutes. I added half a cup of slivered blanched almonds and cooked it for five minutes more, removed it from the heat, stirred in three tablespoons of amaretto liqueur and ladled the conserve into four sterilized half-pint jars. I sealed them following the manufacturer’s directions, labeled the jars when the conserve had cooled and asked Charles to package them up so that they could be mailed to the Noah and Matthew.

There are labels for these goodies that can be downloaded and printed from my blog, a little gift from me to you.


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Hot and Sweet Pepper Jam

December 15th, 2010 / Comments 0

I tasted red pepper jam for the first time at a Christmas open house hosted by my friend Leah. She had centered a block of cream cheese on a red plate, dumped (her word not mine) a jar of red pepper jam on top and surrounded the cheese with crackers.

pepper jam Hot and Sweet Pepper Jam

Leah comes from Atlanta and was amazed that I had never tasted this party classic. She generously shared the collection of cream cheese dip recipes that she had found in her Junior League cookbooks. Leah is a self-described ‘dump-cook,’ she doesn’t measure ingredients and doesn’t cook what she can buy. She used pepper jelly from the market but I prefer the flavor of homemade hot and sweet red pepper jam. This jam uses liquid pectin to thicken and has never failed to gel. Here’s how I did it:

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Vanilla Extract & Label to Download

December 8th, 2010 / Comments 0

I’m planning to include a few of my favorite vanilla sugar cookies with each bottle of vanilla extract when I give them to my foodie friends who bake. Like the vanilla sugar, making vanilla extract is a process of assembly rather than one of cooking.

vanilla extract label  Vanilla Extract & Label to Download

Here’s how I did it:

Vanilla Extract

I split six vanilla beans and put them into a one-quart mason jar. I added two cups of vodka, pushed the beans down so that they were submerged, put the lid on the jar and put the jar in a dark corner of the pantry. I’ll bottle and label the vanilla extract, along with a piece of vanilla bean just before Christmas. Click here  to download a label for bottles of vanilla extract.

When I make only one jar of vanilla sugar, I get a vanilla bean in the spice aisle at the market. But one vanilla bean costs about five dollars and I needed ten beans to make six jars of vanilla sugar and sixteen ounces of vanilla. Luckily, I found Beanilla.com. It is a source for eight varieties of vanilla beans that are significantly less expensive than those bottled individually.

I got a bit carried away when I ordered vanilla beans but I love the intoxicating scent of vanilla that has filled the house. My next project is to try to make a bottle of brandy-based vanilla extract. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

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Vanilla Sugar & Label to Download

December 8th, 2010 / comments 2

This has been vanilla week in my kitchen. Often, vanilla is used as an adjective to describe something that is plain, ordinary or uninteresting, but vanilla week has been creative, exciting and tasty. I’ve made vanilla sugar and vanilla extract to give as gifts this Christmas. They both need time for the flavor to develop so the timing was perfect.

vanilla sugar Vanilla Sugar & Label to Download

Vanilla begins as the seedpod of an orchid native to Mexico. Conquistador was my sister’s favorite word, and I remember when she told me that it was a conquistador, Hernan Cortes, who brought both chocolate and vanilla to Europe in the sixteenth century after observing Montezuma drink a mixture made with cocoa beans, vanilla and honey.

Vanilla grows as a vine with white flowers. The Melipona bee, the only insect that pollinates vanilla, is native to Central America, and so when grown in the tropics anywhere else in the world, vanilla must be pollinated by hand. Vanilla flowers last only one day and growers inspect their plantations every day for open flowers. The beans, actually seedpods formed by the pollinated flowers, are harvested by hand and then cured in a four-step process. The first step, wilting the vanilla beans, is done either by a quick dip in hot water, by freezing, or by heating in an oven or in the sun. Step two, sweating, consists of wrapping the beans in woolen blankets and baking them in the tropical sun. The beans are then dried to prevent rotting and to lock in the aroma. The final step, conditioning, is achieved by storing the beans in closed boxes for a few months. The intensity of labor required to grow and cure vanilla makes it the second most expensive flavoring after saffron.Vanilla sugar brings flavor and aroma to coffee and hot chocolate, is delicious when used to sweetened oatmeal, can be sprinkled on fresh berries or on fruit before it is baked. It’s an easy way to add flavor to meringues, marshmallows or custard and is a gift that makes both cooks and non-cooks happy. The six jars I made will be ready by Christmas. Here’s how I did it: … read more

Gift from the Kitchen #6 – Spicy Hot Chocolate Spoons

December 17th, 2009 / Comments 1

Hot chocolate spoons were the final creation to come from my kitchen this week.

BV chocolate spoon Gift from the Kitchen #6   Spicy Hot Chocolate Spoons

Here’s how I made them:

Spicy Hot Chocolate Spoons

I used a double boiler to melt eight ounces of semi-sweet chocolate over simmering water. While the chocolate melted, I sifted together a quarter of a cup of cocoa powder, half a cup of confectioners’ sugar, half a teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and a quarter of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. I omit cayenne pepper when I’m giving these spoons to friends who prefer food without a spicy kick.

When the chocolate was melted, I added two teaspoons of unflavored vegetable oil, anything but olive oil will do, and used a spatula to stir in the sugar/cocoa mixture.

I put one tablespoon of chocolate into the bowls of eight Chinese porcelain spoons that I found in an Asian market. I added a tag to each spoon with the these simple directions: To make a sublime mug of spicy hot chocolate, put six ounces of very hot milk in a mug and stir with this spoon until the chocolate has melted.

Mugs c egbert Gift from the Kitchen #6   Spicy Hot Chocolate Spoons

I used the remaining chocolate to make chocolate cubes with cinnamon stick stirrers by spooning  the chocolate into plastic ice cube trays and poking a cinnamon stick into each cube before the chocolate hardened. Regardless of how they are packaged, it is important to include directions or the hot chocolate cube will be mistaken for a piece of spicy fudge or a chocolate lollipop.

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Spicy Hot Chocolate List

  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/4 c cocoa powder
  • 1/2 c  confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • a pinch of salt
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Gift from the Kitchen #4 – Chocolate Turtles

December 14th, 2009 / Comments 1

Today marks the end of chocolate week in my holiday kitchen. Homemade chocolate treats are a gift of my time and since they are delicious and extraordinarily consumable they don’t occupy valuable space in anyone’s home for very long.

Pa turtle 01 Gift from the Kitchen #4   Chocolate Turtles

Last Saturday, I created chocolate turtles consisting of five pecans (the head and four legs), held together with a disc of creamy caramel (the body), and topped with dark chocolate (the shell). Creating chocolate turtles is a three-step process: building each turtle body, making caramel and adding the shell.
turtles 01 Gift from the Kitchen #4   Chocolate Turtles

Here’s how I made them:
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