Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Extract

This is something I made a while ago.  The beauty of this lovely extract is that it will keep indefinitely, due to the high alcohol content.  All you need is alcohol and vanilla beans.  I actually used bourbon this time around, but any 35% or 70 proof (or stronger) alcohol will work.  It makes a fantastic gift and can even be used as wedding favours.  You can even print pretty labels to place on the bottles to personalise the gift.

VARIATIONS: I use 5 or 6 vanilla bean pods in my extract as I like it quite strong.  You could always reduce the amount to 3 or 4 if you prefer.  Also, the type of alcohol can be varied to change the taste.   Think vanilla rum extract, or vanilla vodka extract.  Or maybe tequila or brandy vanilla extract if more your style.

USES:  While we’re not making this to drink, but rather to enhance our baked treats, there is no rule to say you can’t drink it.  A nip of vanilla laced bourbon would hit the spot right about now.  Or maybe a ‘special’ spiked coffee.  Or, OMG, an adults only milkshake…  You can thank me later.

Happy Tasting 😛

VANILLA EXTRACT

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Infusing time: 2 months

Yield: 250 mL/1 cup, 50 serves

  • 5-6 vanilla beans
  • up to 250 ml/ 1 cup 35% (70 proof) alcohol, I used bourbon
  • 250mL/1 cup capacity glass bottle

Split the vanilla bean pods in half 4/5 of the way along its length.  Place the vanilla beans into the bottle.  Fill the bottle up with your choice of alcohol.  Close bottle and invert a couple of times.  Store in a cupboard or pantry for 2 months before using, inverting the bottle every few days.  As the volume decreases to 1/3 of the bottle, top up the liquid with you choice of alcohol.  You can also add spent vanilla beans used in other recipes to boost the vanilla flavour.

LINKS:

Vanilla Bean Facts

Wikipedia’s take on Vanilla Extract

I Found Free Label Templates Here!  Just download and alter at will.

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Vanilla and Star Anise Infused Sugar

Vanilla Star Anise Infused Sugar

Vanilla infused sugar has to be the easiest recipe I know.  It is also tempting to eat it straight from the canister, although you probably shouldn’t.  Every time you open the lid, the heavenly smell of vanilla envelops you.  The hardest part of the recipe is waiting the 3 to 6 weeks for the flavour of the infusion to fully develop.  This is another recipe that you can increase the quantities to give as a gift.  An additional bonus to this recipe is that it utilises a vanilla bean that has already been spent.  That is, you have scraped the delicious caviar out and used it for another luscious morsel.  Instead of throwing away the empty pod, you can utilise it and make some vanilla sugar, vanilla extract or even some vanilla syrup.  Some people like to remove or sift out the solid particulate out of the castor sugar, but I like how it looks left in.  At the last minute, I got creative and decided to add some star anise to my vanilla sugar base to add a little je ne sais quoi.  What a fabulous idea that turned out to be.

VARIATIONS:  Infused sugars are not limited to just vanilla, although vanilla is the most well known.  Cinnamon, cloves, glace ginger, rose petals (organic), violet petals (organic), lavender,fresh rosemary, dried orange, mandarin or lemon peel can all make wonderfully different infused sugars, and they make great gifts.  My favourites are ginger & cardamom infused sugar, and vanilla & star anise infused sugar.

USES: Depending on the flavour, there are a multitude of uses for this delicacy.  Scatter over your crepes, have it in your herbal tea or latte, substituted for regular sugar in your baking,  muddle it in a cocktail or rim the glass with it, mix it with butter and smear it on hot toast or rain it over cookies before baking them.  You could even pour it over Crème Brûlée  before flaming it with a blowtorch.  Yum!

Begin by pouring half your sugar into your storage jar.  Now look at the sugar.  Do not eat the sugar.  This is important.

Push the vanilla beans into the sugar.  Try and spread them out so they can more easily share their perfumed goodness into their environment.

Now top up the jar with more sugar.  Leave about a 2.5cm (or 1″) gap so that you can shake the sugar jar freely.

And here is where I decided to add the star anise.  I would have added it in three steps if I had planned to use it – 1/3 on the bottom or the jar, 1/3 when  half the sugar was added, and the rest after all the sugar was in the jar.  As it was, I just inverted the jar a few more times, and used the handle of my wooden spoon to push the pods deeper into the sugar.

Happy Sprinkling   😛

Vanilla Star Anise Infused Sugar

VANILLA AND STAR ANISE INFUSED SUGAR

Preparation time: 5  minutes

Infusing time: 3 to 6 weeks

Yield: 4 1/2 Cups

  • 900 grams/28 oz/ 4 cups caster (superfine) sugar
  • split and spent vanilla bean, caviar used in another recipe
  • 9 – 12 star anise
  • 1 kg/32 oz jar, to store

Place 1/3 of your star anise into you clean and dry jar.  Pour half the sugar (2 cups) into the jar.  Insert your spent vanilla pods into the sugar.  Try and spread the pods so they can come into contact with as much sugar as possible.  Scatter a further 1/3 of the star anise on top of the sugar and vanilla bean pods.  Add the remaining sugar to the jar.  Top the sugar with the last portion of star anise.  Shake the jar.  Store in a cupboard or pantry.  Shake the jar every few days, and start using when flavour has developed to your satisfaction.  If desired, sift out the spices at this time.

LINKS:

Types of Vanilla 

Some Star Anise Information

I Found Free Label Templates Here!  Just download and alter at will.

Chinese Five Spice Pork with Green Beans

Chinese Five Spice Pork with Green Beans

I love Chinese Five Spice powder.  A combination of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seed and sichuan pepper (also known as szechwan or szechuan) that has been toasted and finely ground, it smells deliciously divine and I love to use often and liberally.  So when I came home from the market with a big bag of fresh green beans, I just knew what I had to do.  Off I went to the supermarket to get some pork mince.  Now, snake beans are the usual bean in this morish dish, but I didn’t have any and I WANTED MY FIVE SPICE PORK AND BEANS!!!  Well, I thought, it will taste different, but it should work.  I love it when I’m  right 😀 It was fantastic! Delicious!  Dare I mention I had to hide the (meagre) leftovers from my better half – Scuba ( I know, I don’t get it either) so that I could eke out lunch the next day with it (I mean, seriously, Scuba?  How did that become his nickname?  He doesn’t even dive! I’m so confused…).  Moving right along, you can have this meal on the table within 30 minutes, if you are handy with the knife or even faster if the beans are pre prepped.  While this is a fairly forgiving recipe, I wouldn’t use frozen beans as they are quite moist and they will end up soggy, not firm, and will water down the flavours of this dish.

VARIATIONS:  This recipe lends itself to multiple add in and variations.  Firstly, you don’t have to use pork mince in this dish.  Chicken or turkey mince is just as nice.  Tofu is also lovely, but I add 1/4 cup water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of cornflour for this variation as I think it needs the moisture.  The tofu I add when I would normally add the mince so I can stir fry it, whereas I add the cornflour mixture in the last minute of cooking.  Snake beans in lieu of the green beans is how I normally prepare this dish.  If you haven’t tried them, and have access to them, I do urge you to experiment with them.  You will not be disappointed.  Prepare and cook them as per the green beans.  I usually put 1 can of shredded water chestnuts and bamboo shoots in, but didn’t have any. Spring onion is lovely mixed through at the end, as are a couple of handfuls of bean sprouts or even crushed peanuts.  Also,  You can use fresh chilli instead of dried and a half a cup of torn coriander (cilantro) or thai basil will lift this dish to the next level.

GLUTEN FREE SUBSTITUTIONS: Replace the cooking wine with sake, a gluten free mirin, or a dry sherry.  You can leave it out completely also.  Instead of the kecap manis, use a mixture of honey, molasses or dark brown sugar and some gluten-free tamari soy sauce.

Begin by preparing your beans.  Make sure you trim off any yucky looking bits, cut off the ends and throw away any that look dismal.  Slice the beans into 5 cm (or 2″) lengths.  Wash and drain well, as we will be stir frying the beans and excess water can cause the dish to spit at you, and nobody likes that.

Heat up your wok (or electric fry pan, whatever works for you.  Just make sure it’s big enough) and your oil.  When it is quite hot, add your green beans.  Now, BE CAREFUL!  This is where things can get slightly snarly.  The water from the beans will hit that hot oil and the hot oil will attack you.  It doesn’t mean anything by it though, if that makes you feel better. Carefully keep the beans moving while avoiding the bombardment.  You should find that the water eventually evaporated, leaving you safe from the offensive.  Keep stir frying the beans for about 15 minutes, until they lose their rigidity and become somewhat blackened (not charcoal, but charred).  The beans will also look lovely and glossy.

I admit it.  I did eat one at this point.

Now, remove the beans from the pan.  Weren’t expecting that, were you?Chinese Five Spice Pork and Green Beans

It’s time for the pork 😀 YAY!! Put a bit of oil into your wok, again on a high heat, and add the pork.  Actually, you may not need the oil at this point if your pork mince is a bit fatty.  See how you go.  Break up the meat so it doesn’t form a solid mass.  Quickly add the star anise and crushed chilli flakes.  Stir.

Now for the ginger and garlic.  Stir it up again.

And now for the magic ingredient – the Chinese five spice powder.  Don’t be afraid to smell it.  IT”S SO GOOD!

Give it a good mix.  Keep stir frying until the pinkness is cooked out of the pork.

Then add the Shaoxing cooking wine (or mirin, or cooking sake, or even a splash of sherry.  I told you this was a forgiving recipe), the kecap manis (a sweet soy sauce, if you can’t find this you can use hoisin sauce, char sui sauce if you have it, or even 1 tablespoon soy : 1 teaspoon brown sugar/honey ratio per tablespoon of kecap manis needed) and the sesame oil.

Give it a quick stir, and then reintroduce the beans back into the pan.  They look happy to meet the pork, don’t you think? Keep cooking until beans are again piping hot.  The time from when you add the pork to when the dish is finished should be 5-7 minute.  Serve up with rice, or on its own (as I did).  You can finish with drizzle of kecap manis and an extra sprinkle of Chinese five spice powder if desired.

Happy Eating 😛

Chinese Five Spice Pork with Green Beans

CHINESE FIVE SPICE PORK WITH GREEN BEANS

Preparation time: 5 – 8 minutes

Cooking time: 25-27 minutes

Yield: Serves 4 without rice, serves 6 with rice

  • 750 grams/1.5 lb green beans, trimmed and well washed, cut into 5 cm/2″ lengths
  • 1 tablespoon/20mL high smoke point oil – peanut, grapeseed, canola,  or coconut oil is suitable.
  • 400 – 450 grams/13-14oz pork mince
  • 1 teaspoon/5mL high smoke point oil, extra
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
  •  2 teaspoons crushed garlic (about 2 fat cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons crushed/grated  ginger (about 2cm/3/4″ piece)
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese five spice
  • 2 tablespoons/40mL Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1/4 cup/60mL kecap manis
  • 2 teaspoons/10mL sesame oil
  • kecap mani and Chinese five spice powder – extra, to serve

N.B. There is no added salt as I feel there is enough salt in the kecap manis.  However, if you desire more salty goodness, feel free to add a little at your own discretion. 

Drain the prepared beans well.  Heat the first measure of oil (I used canola) in the wok until almost smoking.  Carefully add the green beans to the wok, and stir fry the beans.  Continue to keep the beans moving.

After about 15 minutes, the beans should be a somewhat blackened and bendy.  They should also be glossy.  At this point, remove the beans from the wok and set aside.

Into the hot wok, add the second (optional) measure of oil.  If not using, just move on to the next step.  Add the pork mince to the wok.  Keep the mince moving, and break up any clumps.  While stir frying, add the star anise, crushed chilli flakes, the garlic, the ginger and the Chinese five spice.  Keep stirring until the pinkness is cooked out of the mince.  This should take about 3-4 minutes.

Now add the cooking wine and the kecap manis.  Add the sesame oil, stir and add the reserved beans.  Stir fry until beans are again piping hot – about 2-4 minutes.

Serve as is or with some steamed rice.  Garnish with a drizzle of kecap manis, and a sprinkle of Chinese five spice powder, if desired.