Kitchen Must Have – Vanilla Paste

Vanilla Paste 2

Aaaahhhh……………vanilla. What’s better in baking then the rich, deep flavor of vanilla? It adds such amazing flavor to everything from candies to cakes to cookies, it’s an absolute staple in every kitchen the world over. Like most people, I use to always bake with vanilla extract but then I discovered vanilla paste and once I did, my whole world changed. Vanilla paste will take your baked goods to the next level, it’s THAT good!

Vanilla paste can be used in exactly the same way as extract only it has a richer, stronger flavor. It also imparts all of the appealing vanilla flecks into your baking so not only will your baked goods taste better, but they will look prettier too! Although called “paste” it really doesn’t have the consistency of paste at all, it’s more like a thick, rich maple syrup. Because vanilla paste is made from the scrapings of a vanilla pod and not alcohol, it won’t have the unpleasant flavor of extract if you taste it straight. Instead, it will taste rich and delicious.

I keep both vanilla extract and vanilla paste in my spice cabinet but I use them in different ways. For recipes where the vanilla flavor will be very pronounced (buttercream, custards, pound cake, puddings, sugar cookies, etc.) I will opt for the vanilla paste since the flavor is stronger. Plus, I love the flecking in baked goods that are very vanilla forward. On the flip side, when a recipe calls for vanilla but it’s not really the “star of the show”, I’ll use the vanilla extract instead. The nice thing is they can be used interchangeably and they measure out teaspoon for teaspoon. That being said, I have been known to double the vanilla paste in some recipes because when it comes to vanilla, you just can’t go wrong with adding a little more!

Vanilla paste is readily available in many stores, especially cooking stores such as Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma. A popular brand is Nielsen-Massey (pictured above) which is absolutely delicious and reasonably priced. You can also find vanilla paste online, my favorite site for all things vanilla is Beanilla . Their prices are fantastic and their products are wonderful, especially their Grade A vanilla beans which are so fresh, soft, and oily. Generally speaking, expect to pay a little more for the vanilla paste then you would for vanilla extract however, I think the extra cost is worth every penny.

I truly cannot recommend vanilla paste enough, it really is a “Kitchen Must Have” and it’s one of my most favorite ingredients. The next time you’re baking up a cake or a batch of sugar cookies, definitely give it a try. I am confident that once you try vanilla paste, your little bottle of extract will start to collect some dust in that spice cabinet!

**Tip** – When using vanilla extract always use “pure vanilla extract” and NOT “imitation vanilla extract”. Pure vanilla is made by extracting flavor from real vanilla beans using 35%+ alcohol. Pure vanilla should be dark and rich just like the beans it was extracted from. Imitation and “clear” vanilla extracts are made from artificial ingredients.

For more information on vanilla extract and to learn how to make your own, click here .

 

 

Chicken Teriyaki Stir Fry

Teriyaki Stir Fry

Since I am watching my sugars nowadays I’ve been trying really hard to eat more vegetables and to always make sure I am eating some form of protein with my carbs. A simple stir fry is a delicious healthy meal that is also super quick to pull together. As an added bonus, it also keeps my sugars completely in check.

Usually I try my best to make everything from scratch but sometimes time just doesn’t allow for that so for this meal I did use a store-bought teriyaki sauce and steamed veggies from the frozen section. Feel free to use whatever fresh or frozen veggies that you have on hand, I really like the Birds Eye Asian Medley which has baby corn, sugar snap peas, carrots, and broccoli. The sauce is Kikkoman Teriyaki Baste and Glaze which is slightly thicker than some other sauces so it sticks to the food nicely.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1.5 lbs chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 can pineapple chunks, drained
  • 2 (10.8 oz) bags of Birds Eye Asian Medley veggies
  • Kikkoman Teriyaki Baste and Glaze
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until slightly browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add in 2-3 tbs of teriyaki sauce, salt and pepper, and toss to coat.

Steam the frozen veggies in the microwave while the chicken is cooking. Drain and set aside.

Add the pineapple to the cooked chicken and sauté for about a minute to warm through. Add in the steamed veggies. Toss to combine. Add teriyaki sauce, salt and pepper to taste and stir until well combined. Adjust seasonings as needed, if sauce is too thick add a little water to thin it out.

Serve over steamed white or brown rice.

 

“How-To” Canning – Fresh Cranberry Jelly

cran jellyOne of the best things about this time of year is cranberries!! Fresh cranberries are readily available from now through the holidays and you can make so many delicious things with them from jellies to muffins to sweet dips! I really enjoy a good freshly made cranberry jelly and this recipe really delivers. It also happens to be one of the simplest recipes I’ve ever made as it does not require any pectin AND if you’re not up for canning, you can just put it into the fridge and use it right away. It makes an excellent topping for toast and cornbread and it’s absolutely delicious spread on a fresh turkey sandwich. I always like to have some on hand in the pantry so I usually double the recipe for canning but if you want just a few jars to use right away, follow the recipe as written.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbs fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of Kosher salt

Instructions

Combine all of the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.

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Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the berries pop and the sauce thickens, about 20-25 minutes.

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Cool. After cooking, purée, and strain.

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To can the cranberry jelly:

  • PREPARE boiling water canner and all canning tools. Heat pint size jars in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil.  Wash lids in warm soapy water then place them in hot, not boiling, water until ready to use. Set bands aside.
  • FILL each jar with jelly leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Wipe any excess jelly from the rim with a clean cloth.
  • PROCESS the jars for 10 minutes in boiling water. Then turn off the heat, remove the lid, and allow the jelly to stand in the water for an additional 5 minutes.
  • REMOVE the jars from the water and allow them to cool on the counter.
  • CHECK the lids for a tight seal after 12-24 hours. If properly sealed, the lids will not give at all when pressed. Gently tighten the bands and store in the pantry.

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“How-To” Baking – Proofing

In baking, the term proofing actually has two applications. With regards to yeast, which is a living organism that can weaken over time, it’s a process that is used to determine if the yeast is still active and capable of leavening bread dough. Proofing is also the term that is used to describe the second (or final) rise of a shaped yeast dough.

To proof yeast – Mix the yeast with warm water (between 105ºF and 110ºF) and allow it to sit for a few minutes. If the yeast becomes creamy and foamy, it is still active. If the yeast does not foam and become creamy it is no longer active and should be thrown out as it will not work properly in the dough.

To proof shaped dough – For the final rise of a shaped yeast dough simply place the dough in a warm, dark, draft free area and allow it to rest undisturbed. Many ovens today come equipped with a PROOF function and it works exceptionally well. If you have an oven that has this feature, take advantage of it when proofing dough.

Crazy Sprinkle Four Layer Rainbow Cake

Sprinkle Cake 1

My daughter loves sprinkles and all things rainbow so for her 9th birthday this week I decided to make her a very special rainbow cake. It was four layers of vibrant vanilla cake frosted with Swiss Meringue Buttercream  and then covered in an entire container of sprinkles. It was the perfect cake for my sweet little girl who is growing up way too fast, I could’ve sworn she was just born yesterday!!

For the four layers, I used the Wilton Easy Layers Cake Loaf Pan 4 Pc . These pans are great, they are small and shallow but when layered together they create an impressive cake. You can also get them in various shapes such as scalloped, square, and round. If you enjoy baking cakes they are worth adding to your pan collection.

For the vanilla cake I tried out Buddy Valastro’s (The Cake Boss) recipe that was featured on the “Rachael Ray” show. You can find the original recipe here . It was a fairly moist and flavorful cake and it paired nicely with the buttercream frosting that I made but I think if I used this recipe again I would like to enhance the vanilla flavor even further. I like a really deep, rich vanilla cake and I think this one came up a little short even after doubling the amount of vanilla that was called for in the recipe. In the end, the cake as a whole was excellent and everyone enjoyed it so I will check this recipe off as a success!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract OR vanilla paste
  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
  • Jar of rainbow sprinkles

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spray each of the four layer pans with cooking spray and then place a sheet of parchment paper (cut to size) in the bottom of each one, spray again with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat sugar and eggs together until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Add flour, milk, oil, baking powder, and vanilla and beat for another minute, just until the batter is smooth and creamy. Don’t overbeat. Pour batter into the prepared baking pans.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick poked into the center of the layer comes out clean. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes then turn them out of the pan onto the rack. Cool completely before frosting.

On a rectangular dish or cake board, place the first layer of cake and frost with a thin layer of buttercream. Repeat until all of the layers are stacked. Then apply a thin crumb coat to the cake, place in the fridge for about 20 minutes to allow it to set. Frost the cake with the remainder of the buttercream and then coat the entire cake in sprinkles. Gently press in the sprinkles on the sides of the cake to ensure they stick. Store the cake in the fridge until serving time.

**Tip** – Be sure and adjust the cooking time as needed if using different sized pans.

Sprinkle Cake 2

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

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Admittedly, I usually dislike homemade frosting because so often it’s overly sweet thanks to the 4,000 cups of confectioners sugar many recipes call for. When I was baking my daughter’s birthday cake this year I decided it was the perfect time to try my hand at a Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting instead and I am so glad that I did. It was SO much better than any other homemade frosting I’ve ever made, it had a really nice, well-balanced flavor.

I got this recipe from The Pioneer Woman’s website, you can find the original recipe here . It was very easy to make however, it takes a little more time than other types of frosting because you need to cook the egg whites and sugar. A good candy thermometer will come in handy for that step, if you don’t have one you’ll just have to pay very close attention to the egg and sugar mixture as it cooks so that the right consistency is achieved. The mixture will increase in volume as it cooks and when it’s ready it should be very shiny, smooth, and have the consistency of melted marshmallow. This process took about 20 minutes until the desired temperature (160ºF) and consistency was reached.

Also, although not required, a stand mixer really makes the whole job so much easier but if you don’t have a stand mixer, a handheld mixer will do just fine. The finished product has a pronounced almond flavor thanks to the added extract. If you prefer a more straight vanilla flavor simply substitute the almond extract that is called for in the recipe with additional vanilla extract.

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted Butter, room temperature and cut into tablespoons
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt

Place egg whites and sugar in the metal bowl of a stand mixer. Place bowl over a pan of simmering water, do not allow it to touch the water. Whisk or stir constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to approximately 160ºF. If attempting without a thermometer, sugar should be dissolved with no graininess when a bit is rubbed between two fingers. It will be hot to the touch.

Immediately place the bowl on the stand mixer and whip on high using the whisk attachment until frosting has become thick and glossy, forming a stiff peak. Continue to whip frosting until the bowl feels room temperature to the touch, a total of about 10 minutes.

Switch the whisk attachment to the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, drop in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. If frosting appears curdled or clumpy at any time, increase speed to medium-high and beat until smooth.

Once all of the butter has been incorporated, mix in extracts and pinch of salt. If needed, continue beating until smooth.

**Tip** – Sweets frosted with Swiss Meringue Buttercream may be stored on the counter for a few days or in the refrigerator. If storing in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature before serving.

“How-To” Baking – Crumb Coat

A crumb coat, also referred to as the “dirty icing“, is the base coat of icing on a cake. It is done to seal the cake and prevent any stray cake crumbs from getting into the final icing coat. Once the crumb coat is in place, the second layer of icing will go on cleanly and the finished cake will look smooth and uniform instead of rough or “dirty”.

To crumb coat a cake, first level the cake with a sharp knife. An even, level surface is important when stacking multiple layers. On a cake plate put a dollop of icing on the bottom and then place the first layer of cake on top of it, this will prevent the cake from shifting around. Fill each layer and stack the cakes one at a time. When adding the last layer, flip the cake upside down so that the bottom is the top. This will reduce the amount of crumbs that get into the crumb coat. Apply a thin layer of icing around the sides and top of the cake then smooth it out with a bench scraper or offset spatula. Chill the cake for about 20 minutes to set the layers and the crumb coat. Finish the cake by applying the second layer of icing and decorations.

“How-To” Cooking – Butterflying

Butterflying is a cooking technique whereby food is cut all the way down the middle, almost all the way through, so that it can be opened up to lie relatively flat. Butterflying allows for fast, even cooking of food and it also makes it easy to stuff and roll up meat.

To butterfly:

  • Beef Filets – First, lay the meat flat on the cutting board. With a chef’s knife, make short, smooth strokes horizontally down the middle of the filet. Avoid cutting the meat so that one side is thicker than the other, both sides need to be about the same thickness so they cook evenly. Cut almost all the way through the meat, stopping right before the two halves are completely severed. Open up the two halves like a butterfly.
  • Chicken Breasts – Lay the breast on the cutting board, smooth side down. First, remove the inner filet known as the chicken tender and set aside. Then, flip the breast over and cut the meat horizontally, just as you would with a beef filet, and follow the same procedure to butterfly. Save the chicken tenders to use for another recipe.
  • Seafood – Shrimp is an easy piece of seafood to butterfly. Using a smaller knife slice shrimp down the curved part of the tail, open it up, and lie flat to butterfly.

Dutch Apple Pie

Happiness is Homemade Pie

Technically it’s still summer, for a few more days anyway, but my heart and my head are already in the fall which also happens to be my most favorite time of year. There is nothing better than cozy sweaters, a crisp breeze on your face, and of course, apples! What better way to herald in the start of apple season than with a homemade, perfectly spiced, warm Dutch Apple Pie. It’s the quintessential fall dessert and it’s perfect to serve at any holiday gathering or just as a weekend treat. Feeling naughty? Top your warm pie with a nice, big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Absolute perfection!

I’ve always been a huge apple lover and although I wouldn’t kick a slice of double crust apple pie to the curb, there is really nothing better than a slice topped with sugary, buttery crumbs. This recipe has become my “go-to” for Dutch Apple Pie and the best part is that it’s really quite easy to pull together. If you’re feeling ambitious, go ahead and make your own pie dough but if you want to keep this super simple, a store-bought crust works just as well. I prefer to use the Pillsbury Pie Crusts that you roll out, they can be found right in the refrigerator section of the supermarket. Also, I like to use a 10″ deep dish pie plate so that I can pile my apples high without risking overflow in the oven.

You can use any type of firm baking apple in this pie such as a Northern Spy, Cortland, or Gala. I prefer to use either all Granny Smith or a combination of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp apples. Choose whatever apple appeals to your palate, just stay away from soft snack apples such as a Red Delicious, they will become applesauce in the oven. Be sure to let this pie cool down before cutting into it, if you slice into it while it’s still steaming hot your pie will be very runny and it won’t hold it’s shape on the plate. Allow it to come down to almost room temperature before slicing in order to maintain its structural integrity.

Ingredients

For the pie filling

  • 1 pie shell or roll of store-bought  pie dough
  • 5 cups of peeled, cored, and sliced apples (any firm baking variety will do)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbs all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter

For the crumb toppping

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Lightly spray a pie plate with cooking spray then lay the pie dough into the plate. Gently press the dough into place.

To make the pie filling – Place the sliced apples in a large bowl and toss with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. In a small bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and spices. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples and toss gently to combine.

In a large saucepan over low to medium heat, melt the butter. Cook the apples in the butter for about 8-10 minutes or until very slightly softened. Set aside.

To make the crumb topping – In a medium bowl combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, oats, and lemon zest. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry blender or fork, the mixture should become nice and crumbly.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the apple filling to the prepared pie plate. Cover the top of the pie with the crumb topping, gently pressing the crumbs into place.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the crumb topping is browned and the apples are tender. If the pie is browning too quickly, loosely cover with aluminum foil until it’s done baking. Cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm and store in the refrigerator.

Dutch Apple Pie

Tortellini en Brodo with Spinach and Chicken

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If you’re looking for a super quick, healthy, and totally delicious dinner look no further. This soup is wonderfully flavored and thanks to the tortellini and chicken, very filling as well. I came across this recipe in my Cook’s Country magazine, the August/September 2017 issue. It’s made with ingredients that most everyone should have on hand and it comes together within minutes. The recipe calls for chicken broth however, I feel that stock imparts a richer and more flavorful profile to the soup but feel free to use whatever you have in the pantry. To save time and add an extra boost of protein I also threw in some diced rotisserie chicken. Enjoy!!

Ingredients

  • 3 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 6 cups chicken broth or stock (I prefer Kitchen Basics Stock)
  • 1 tbs soy sauce
  • 8-10 ounces cheese tortellini
  • 3 oz baby spinach
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8-10 oz diced Rotisserie chicken

Instructions

Melt butter over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Add the onion, salt, and pepper. Cook until the onions are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the broth/stock and soy sauce and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the pasta and cook until al dente. Remove the soup from the heat and add the spinach, cheese, and diced rotisserie chicken. Serve hot.