Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mini Cherry Pies

Confession: I have never truly made pie dough from scratch.

I love to bake, but my thing is normally cookies and cakes.  If I made pies or tarts, normally I just buy a grocery store crust.  Is that terrible?

But then the other week I saw a recipe for mini cherry pies that you can make in a muffin/cupcake tin!  The recipe, which, of course, involved making pie dough from scratch, seemed delicious, and sweet dark red cherries happened to be sale at the grocery store, so it seemed like good time to try the recipe and to try my hand at making pie dough from scratch.  Also, miniaturizing desserts is a great way to make them easy to pack for lunch or even to entertain (no messy cutting and serving)!

I know cherry season is ending soon, but this recipe is perfect, even with frozen cherries or end-of-season bruised/not-so-beautiful fruit.  The cherry, vanilla, and rum flavors are classic, and this pie dough was a cinch to make and tasty just as flaky and perfect as I hoped it would.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fresh Peach and Ginger Beer Cocktail

I am currently sitting in my apartment drinking a cocktail.

I rarely ever drink cocktails because, quite frankly, I don't like the taste of most alcohol.  This is very prohibitive to my drinking.  I love looking at the drink descriptions at bars and speakeasies, but most of the time when I actually taste the drinks, the vodka/tequila/rum/whatever hard liquor it is ends up making me wish I ordered a virgin.  Of course most of the time if you go to a bar and try to do that you'll get weird looks.  So this is why sometimes I find it's nice to just fix myself a drink to enjoy at home, while reading a book on the very comfortable couch that B. and I bought.

Recently I've actually been making a lot of these "mocktails" all thanks to the beauty that is my new hand held blender (also called a stick blender or an immersion blender).  Given all the wonderful fresh fruit that is in season right now, I've taken to making drinks built on various fruit purees.  While it's easy to use sparkling water as a base, I also love using ginger beer.
Ginger beer, generally, is not actually alcoholic, and in my experience, tends to just be synonymous with ginger ale (though I'm sure some experts out there will know be able to explain the difference, I shall not feign knowledge of things when I am truly ignorant).  I find that the slight "bite" and spiciness of ginger beer works as a great addition to all fruit bases.  One of the "mocktails" I've made is a lovely plum, ground cinnamon, honey, and ginger beer drink, which I think would be a great pre-dinner drink in the fall (maybe even before Thanksgiving?).  A summer-flavored mocktail I made had raspberries, lime juice, cane sugar, and ginger beer.  This was lovely, although I did discover an unpleasantly large amount of raspberry seeds in the bottom of my glass, which I did not consume.

This particular cocktail that I am sharing today combines the classic flavors of peach, vanilla, and ginger, which to me are all the things that should be in a good peach pie or cobbler.  It captures the quintessential elements of summer in a glass.  If you are so inclined to add alcohol to this, vanilla rum (aka vanilla extract in the making; see my previous post) also is a delicious addition.

In order to make this, if you don't have an immersion blender, go ahead and pull out the big guns; you can easily double this recipe and make it in a normal blender.  If you don't use all of the fruit puree, you can save it in the fridge for another day; it will keep for at least 3 days.

 Fresh Peach and Ginger Beer Cocktail
makes two martini glasses (easily scaled up as needed)

2 peaches
1-2 teaspoons vanilla sugar or regular granulated sugar
splash of vanilla rum or regular rum (recommended: Bicardi Gold Dark Rum)
1 bottle of ginger beer (recommended: Reed's Extra Ginger Brew)

The ratios here are just suggestions.  I like my cocktails a little fruitier than some.  The amount of sugar you need to use will also depend on how ripe and sweet your peaches are.
For each of my cocktails, I used about 3 tablespoons of peach puree (that's a little less than one peach), 1/2 tsp of vanilla sugar, 1 tsp of rum.  Shake this in a cocktail shaker with some ice and then pour into a martini glass.  Top with ginger beer.

Optional: if you're feeling extra fancy, omit the sugar in the cocktail and instead just rim your cocktail glasses with some sugar.  (If you don't know how, this video is short and great.)

Now that you have this idea though, you can run wild with it!  Combine any fruit purees of your choosing, some ginger beer (or sparkling water), and an alcohol of your choice for a great cocktail.
And, before I go, I'll share one last little trick with you: if you want an easy way to clean your stick blender without risking cutting yourself, just fill a cup with some warm water and a few drops of dish soap and blend for 30 seconds, then rinse.  Presto!
Happy Wednesday!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Homemade Vanilla Extract with Rum

Recently, I decided to make homemade vanilla extract.  Because I enjoy baking, I can easily go through about 5-7 bottles of vanilla extract a year.  Each 2 ounce bottle costs about $3 in the grocery store.  When you think about what you're buying and how easy it is to make, the cost of store-bought extract is actually pretty high.  Also store-bought vanilla extract doesn't always provide as much flavor as I would like.  Sometimes I increase the vanilla in my recipes because I just want a deeper flavor profile.  If anything I just said rings true for you, homemade is the way to go.

So how do you go about making vanilla extract?  The process is fairly simple.  I should have done it a long time ago.  All you need is some vanilla beans, a glass container, and some rum/vodka/bourbon.

I actually decided to make homemade vanilla extract because I found a very nicely priced vanilla bean supplier online who had good ratings.  The company (who is not paying me for this and does not know I am writing this) is called Beanilla.  The are predominantly a vanilla bean supplier, though they also sell other products.  Currently, they are having a sale on Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla beans; you can buy a package of ten for $8.95, which, if you've ever looked at buying beans in stores or online you know is a great deal.  They also have free shipping right now for vanilla beans and they have a coupon code SAVE10, which gives you 10% off your order.  When I saw this, I had to order them.

I got my beans in the mail, vacuum packed, within a few days.  And they even slipped me an extra bean (accidentally, I assume), so that I got 11 vanilla beans for $8.05!  When I opened the package the beans were fragrant, moist, and very plump.  They were the highest quality vanilla beans I'd worked with in a long time.  The last time I bought vanilla beans at a grocery store in France, they were rather dried out when I worked with them.

The "recipe" for vanilla extract is very simple.  You just need to take your beans and split them in half.  Using a knife to scrape the seeds (actually called "caviar") from the pods and then add both vanilla seeds and the scraped out pods to a large glass container.  I used a bottle that I bought from Ikea for $3.99 (I'm listing the price here because again, this is far cheaper than anything you can find online).
Now everyone has different ratios that they suggest.  After much reading, I decided that I would use seven vanilla beans (one of which I scraped out the caviar from and used in a cherry compote), and about 4 cups of dark rum.  Many people use a much higher vanilla bean to alcohol ratio, but they also expect their extract to be done in about 6 weeks.  I am fine with letting my extract takes it time to reach maturity.  Also, vanilla beans continue add flavor as long as they are submerged in alcohol, so many people re-use their beans to continue making extract.  I simply started with a more dilute mixture and will wait longer, probably 9 weeks, before testing my solution.  This is what it looks like for now.

One handle of Bicardi Dark Rum (1.75L) cost me $21.39.  I used about half of this, so let's say that was $11.  The 11 pack of vanilla beans cost me $8.05.  I used 7 of them, so that comes to about $5.  The bottle that I bought was $4.  The total cost of making this thus is roughly $20.
That may seem a bit high for now, but again, I can continue to use these beans to make more vanilla extract afterwards.  Also, I used high quality ingredients that will impart far more flavor into my baked goods later on.  I imagine this could also be used to make some pretty amazing mixed drinks.
Hopefully this project turns out well!  I'll give updates as more time passes.