Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Get Real if your serious about your desserts!
Toss the Fake Stuff and Make Home Made Vanilla

I love vanilla. Something about vanilla reminds me of my youth and of sweet smells wafting thru my parents home. Nothing, seriously nothing adds more taste or dimension to desserts, crepes, pancakes, etc. than the taste of pure vanilla. Buying pure vanilla is quite expensive, especially if you use it frequently as I do. So making it although still expensive is much more affordable.

Commercial vanilla extract usually has simple syrup (sugar water) added to the extract to give it a sweet aftertaste and in no way can it compete to the recipe below.

It’s also a great recipe to make with your children who will enjoy helping you cut the vanilla beans and on a daily basis, reviewing the transformation taking place in the jar. My daughter Tori loves to add the date and Tori’s Beans label to it. You will enjoy making this and will love your food even more.


6 -8 vanilla beans depending on size of jar (Madagascar or Mexican beans are my favorite)
vodka (26 to 40 ounce bottle)
glass jar with tight fitting lid


1. Use kitchen scissors or a sharp paring knife to cut lengthwise down each vanilla bean, splitting them in half, leaving an inch at the end connected.
2. Put vanilla beans in a glass jar or bottle with a tight fitting lid (mason jars work well). Cover completely with the vodka.
3. Give the bottle a good shake every once in a while. Store in a dark, cool place for 2 months minimum.

Lasts for years. You can keep topping it off with vodka once in a while as you use it, just remember to give it a good shake. I like to add more extra vanilla beans and also start new batches so I can share my vanilla as gifts. If you’re a true friend you get some of my pure vanilla. Yum!

Note: One day while making vanilla I got careless and added a small amount of Maple vodka to my batch while topping it off (the bottles looked the same!). Just like many past discoveries, something great came out of it. We love the light taste of maple in our vanilla and have now begun experimenting with other flavors. Feel free to do so.

Friday, September 11, 2009


An amazing sandwich for a trail run, hike, ski or date (trust me on this one). It travels extremely well in a backpack and does not need to be cut until you stop to eat. Hearty and amazingly tasty, the muffelleta will make your mouth sing with it’s various flavors due the various spices and vinegar. Give it a try, you will not be disappointed. The recipe below is my standard but I often alternate it with leftover chicken, steak or with more aggressive cheeses such as jarlsberg or swiss. Feel free to add more heat too with cayenne, tabasco or fresh chilies. I also love to add smoked paprika and spiked Italian vegetables.


1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup olive oil
10 large pitted green olives, chopped
1/3 cup pitted, chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup chopped roasted red bell peppers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (1-pound) round bread loaf (about 7 inches in diameter and 3 inches high)
4 ounces thinly sliced ham
4 ounces thinly sliced mortadella
4 ounces thinly sliced salami
4 ounces sliced provolone
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 ounces arugula leaves


Whisk the first 3 ingredients in a large bowl to blend. Gradually blend in the oil. Stir in the olives and roasted peppers. Season the vinaigrette, to taste, with salt and pepper.
Cut the top 1-inch of the bread loaf. Set the top aside. Hollow out the bottom and top halves of the bread. Spread some of the olive and roasted pepper mix over the bread bottom and cut side of the bread top. Layer the meats and cheeses in the bread bottom. Top with the onions, then the arugula. Spread the remaining olive and roasted pepper mix on top of the sandwich and carefully cover with the bread top. You can serve the sandwich immediately or you can wrap the entire sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator a day before serving.
Cut the sandwich (during a break during your run or hike) into wedges and serve. No cutlery necessary… it’s so good you will want to lick your fingers or your dates.