Why I Bought a Gallon of Vodka, Plus a Holiday Baking Giveaway

Have you heard the one about the woman you went into the liquor store and asked for a gallon of vodka?  Oh.  Wait.  That was me.  🙂  And you should have seen the looks on their faces!  Apparently, vodka is not sold by the gallon, it’s sold by the liter.  So, then I had to try to figure out how many liters make a gallon.  We finally decided that 2 1.75 liter bottles would be about a gallon.

I am sure you are all fascinated by that bit of information and are now asking yourselves, “Why in the world would anyone need a whole gallon of vodka?”  And the answer to that question is, “To turn it into a whole gallon of vanilla extract, of course!”

This little vanilla adventure started when I saw a blog post about making your own vanilla.  Since I had recently thrown mine out (after I discovered the stuff I had contained high fructose corn syrup), I wanted to give it a try.  So I got a few vanilla beans and a small bottle of vodka.  I stuck the beans in the bottle and waited.  After about 6 weeks I was enjoying using my very own homemade vanilla extract.  No artificial anything, and no HFCS!

I decided that homemade vanilla would be a great Christmas gift for my friends and family that bake.  And that, my friends, is where that whole gallon of vodka comes in.  I ordered my Premium Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla Beans from this great website called OliveNation.  They have lots of other great stuff, as well as free shipping on their vanilla beans.  Saving money on shipping is always a plus!

It takes anywhere from 4 to 6 months to make a gallon of extract.  At 4 months you can begin to use it and at 6 months it is double strength.  And as a bonus, after I made the extract I dried the beans and used them to make vanilla sugar and vanilla cinnamon sugar.  I use dehydrated sugar cane juice, but any kind of sugar will work.

Vanilla Cinnamon Sugar and Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla Cinnamon Sugar and Vanilla Sugar

And then I made these fun labels to go on the tops.

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Here are the directions for making a gallon of vanilla extract.  You can, of course, make smaller amounts, but your story won’t be nearly as funny.  🙂

Homemade Vanilla Extract

1 gallon of vodka

80 ish organic vanilla beans (approx 3/4 pound)

gallon sized glass jar with lid

The first step is to split the vanilla beans lengthwise to within about an inch from one end.

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Then you put the beans in the jar and add the vodka.

beans in vodka

Put the lid on the jar and shake it well.  Now put the jar in a cool, dark place.  About once a month or so you need to shake the jar again.  After 4 months it should look like this.

4 month old vanilla

I kinda rushed things for Christmas, but next time I will let it sit for the full 6 months so it will be double strength.  When you are ready to bottle it, strain it through a coffee filter or cheesecloth into a large pot.

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I used a coffee filter this time, but next time I will use the cheesecloth.  The beans have some oil in them and that seemed to clog up the filter I used.  All that’s left is to put it in the bottles.  I put a vanilla bean in each bottle before adding the extract.  That way, the recipients can add a little more vodka to the bottle as they use it.

I found these amber bottles for the vanilla at Mountain Rose Herbs.  And made some more fun labels :).

vanilla bottles

Perfect for gift giving.  The vanilla sugars also make great gifts.  I like to use the plain in my hot tea and maybe I’ll sprinkle the cinnamon over my soaked oatmeal.  I think it would also be good on grapefruit.

What would you use the sugars for?  Leave a comment below (click on the balloony thing at the top) and I’ll enter your name into a drawing to win a 4 oz bottle of vanilla and one jar of each of the sugars.  I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, December 19th.

Can’t wait to hear your ideas!

This post was shared at Homemade Ginger’s Christmas Craft Link-Up, Simple Lives ThursdayFat Tuesday, Tutorial Tuesday and Frugal Tuesday Tip.

Garlic and Taters and Onions, Oh My!

I’ve spent the last few weeks periodically drooling over the seed selections in my Baker Creek seed catalogue.  I always dream of having a huge garden when in reality I only have a very small garden spot.  It’s always a little painful to have to eliminate choices I don’t have room for.  Especially from Baker Creek.  They sell heirloom seeds from all over the world.  If you enjoy gardening, I would encourage you to visit their website.  So many seeds, so little room!

I think I have narrowed down my picks for this year.  Pretty sure.  Maybe.  I’m going to give broccoli a try since it’s something we all really like,  And of course salad fixin’s are a must.  There’s nothing quite like picking your lunch 5 minutes before you eat it!  I’ve chosen a salad mix and green onions, and I’m going to try celery this year too.  Carrots don’t seem to like my dirt so I’m giving those a pass.  Green beans will grow up the chain link fence along with sugar snap peas.  I’ll have some tomatoes in pots as well as potted herbs:  basil, oregano, rosemary, chives, cilantro, and parsley.  And although I would love to have potatoes, onions, garlic, and sweet corn there just isn’t enough room.  Same goes for watermelons, cucumbers, spaghetti squash, and so many others.  Sigh.

So for now I will plant what I can in this season and continue to plan for my big garden in a future season when I have more space.  It’s actually kinda fun to plan out the perfect garden.  On paper there are no limitations and I really like that idea.  It’s still a little too early to start planting here but it’s supposed to be around 65 degrees today, so I think I’m going to go outside and play in the dirt!

Do you have a garden?  What are your favorite things to grow?

I linked up with Frugal Days Sustainable Ways

Chicken and Broccoli in Wine Sauce

Last week a friend and I went to dinner at an Italian place.  My friend ordered a dish in a wine sauce and she let me have a taste.  I decided right then that I needed to come up with a recipe that had a wine sauce.  This is what I came up with using ingredients that I already had at home.

Chicken and Broccoli in Wine Sauce

Here’s what I used:

3 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces (preferably organic, free range)
2 bunches of broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
1 medium onion, thickly sliced and the slices cut in half
4 oz button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 c homemade chicken stock
1 c white wine (I only had a white zinfandel, so that’s what I used)
1 tsp fresh minced garlic
pinch of sea salt
ground pepper
thyme
toasted sesame seeds
Put the chicken stock, wine, minced garlic, and 1 1/2 tsp sea salt in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced by about half.
While the sauce is reducing, heat the olive oil in a large skillet.  Add onions and saute until they are translucent.  Add the mushrooms and chicken.  Cook, stirring, until the chicken is no longer pink.  Put the broccoli in the skillet.  It will steam beautifully just sitting on top of everything else.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Check sauce and adjust seasonings if necessary.  Pour the sauce over the mixture in the skillet.  Sprinkle with fresh thyme and toasted sesame seeds.  Stir to distribute sauce and seasonings.  Serve with a green salad and garlic toast.
This was a really quick and easy meal and it made the house smell really good.  The kids liked it so much that they ate it all and didn’t leave me any leftovers for today! 🙁  You could serve it over pasta or rice for a more filling meal, or if you want to stretch it.  This will easily served four adults, or in my case, 1 adult and two teenagers.  I just love it when an experiment works out!
Do you experiment in the kitchen?  What has been your favorite experiment so far?