Friday, September 27, 2013

Boundary Waters, 2013

Hi!  I am sorry it has been so long since I've posted!  We went to the Boundary Waters last weekend, and since then, I have been having a hard time catching up!  I will share with you a few of the photographs we took on our trip.

We love the self-timer on our camera!  This was our fourth trip to the Boundary Waters, and we had a wonderful time. 

One of our campsites.

A tasty supper of Shrimp Curry.

The weather was a little rainy that night, but we had plenty of warm, dry clothes.


In the Boundary Waters, we love a cup of hot cocoa in the morning. 

During the middle of the night we heard a lot of tramping about in the woods. Then all of a sudden - crack! Boom! A tree fell down, THANKFULLY not on us! But it was quite close. Obviously a beaver was at work, as I found the next morning.

More tasty food - New York Strip steaks - lightly seasoned with salt.  We experimented with cooking steak in the cast iron pan, and also on the grate.  We liked the grate cooked one the best, as it had a better crust/sear. 

Juicy, tender, flavorful and meaty!

Portaging.  This was a great portage path.

Of course we had G.O.R.P.!  Our mix included peanut M&M's, dried cherries, mixed nuts, bridge mix and smoked almonds.  It was the best we'd ever had. 

Another campsite.  

Cooking fry bread!

Beautiful sunset. 

Eggs, hash browns and bacon for breakfast!

Along with a beautiful sunrise.

 A good water filtration system is a must in the Boundary Waters.  Giardia - no thanks!

I made this slow-cooked apple crisp for dessert - it was delicious!

We made this little friend.

And enjoyed some beautiful days:



Have you ever been to the Boundary Waters, or done any backpacking, ect...?  What do you bring along to eat?

Thank you for coming along and sharing our pictures with us!  

During this coming weekend, I'll get back to my regular posting.  There are a lot of great posts coming up! 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Homemade Vanilla Extract

If you are a person who is interested in baking, then this post is for you.

Vanilla extract.  Most people have some sort of vanilla extract in their pantry, either imitation or pure vanilla extract or something else.

Have you ever thought about making your own vanilla extract?  I'd like to share a quick and easy recipe for pure vanilla extract that uses only two easy ingredients: liquor and vanilla beans.
Last Christmas we got a "make your own vanilla kit" from Charlie's dad.  We were excited to experiment, and got it going right after Christmas.  About a week ago, we remembered that the vanilla was tucked away in the back of the pantry and pulled it out!  To our delight, the vanilla was amazing.  It had a strong vanilla presence with a rich, complex flavor and incredibly smooth aroma.  I loved that the homemade vanilla extract doesn't have any imitation flavors or chemicals. 

Now, to start the discussion, I just wanted to chat about purchasing vanilla beans.  If you have ever purchased vanilla beans from your local grocery store, you know they come in a glass bottle and cost somewhere in the range of $8-$12 for one dried up vanilla bean that is impossible to split properly.  I don't think it is a good idea to pay so much for such a low quality ingredient.  We have started buying our vanilla beans online in bulk, and have been very happy with the quality.  Charlie found a great website that we purchase our vanilla beans from.  We have found that they last for at least a year, or even longer if you put them in the freezer.     

My plan is now to have my own homemade vanilla extract on hand at all times, to use in recipes where vanilla extra plays a large role in the flavor.  Making your own vanilla might seem like an unnecessary waste of time, but so far in my experience, I have found that the quality of homemade vanilla extract is unrivaled. 

After you get the vanilla going, you will be able to start using it in about 8 weeks.  When I pour out some vanilla extract, I top it off with a little more vodka.  From what I have read, homemade vanilla extract is like fine wine and will get better with age.  Topping off the bottle is an economical way to make your homemade vanilla extract last for years!  It will start to thin out after awhile, but you can always just drop in another vanilla bean or two and the extract will come back up to strength. 

If some of the vanilla beans are getting faded looking, just take them out and dry them on some paper towels for an hour or two.  Then, you can put them in a container of sugar and make vanilla sugar.  Vanilla sugar can be used for many recipes, such as a topping on sugar cookies, a topping on creme brulee and in most of your favorite baking recipes.  I love getting as much as I can out of an expensive ingredient like vanilla beans.


Homemade Vanilla Extract


5 vanilla beans
8 ounces vodka
Use a knife to spilt the bean in half, making sure to leave about half inch at each end intact.  Place vanilla beans in bottle and cover with vodka.  Close bottle and store in a cool, dry place for about 8 weeks, then start using your vanilla!  But remember, top it off! 

Note: Bourbon, rum or brandy can also be used in place of the vodka, however, they will impart extra flavor to the vanilla extract. This may be interesting!  I haven't experimented that far yet.  If you have or do, please let me know!

Next note:  Choosing different types of vanilla beans can impart different flavors to your homemade vanilla extract.  Mexican vanilla beans impart a bold and smokey flavor.  Madagascar vanilla beans impart a rich and creamy flavor.  Tahitian vanilla beans impart a floral aroma and a unique cherry-chocolate flavor.  Each kind of vanilla bean makes a delicious extract.  You can even blend different vanilla bean varieties together.  And even go a step farther and mix liquors and vanilla beans and create your own new vanilla extract flavor.  Have fun and experiment! 

And finally, last note: If you are concerned about the alcohol smell, you have a couple of options.  You can put the extract in your dehydrator on very low heat for 12 hours.  Or, you could put the extract in a sauce pan and slowly heat it to 180 degrees.  Most of the alcohol will evaporate out at 167 to 175 degrees.  The issue with this is that your extract will not last as long anymore, as the alcohol is what acts as the preservative and allows the extract to "brew" for years.

Make your own vanilla extract?  Let me know your experiences! 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Homemade Cucumber Relish

One thing I've learned over the years is that when the cucumbers get too big, it is time to make relish.  When I am working my three twelve hour shifts in a row, it is difficult to get out to the garden for a few days.  Meanwhile, the cucumbers keep growing! 

I've been making my own relish for years, and it is one thing my family always requests when we cook hot dogs over the bonfire.  Well, cucumber relish and smores.  But that is another post.

So, we start with cucumbers that are a bit too big for pickles but not all bloated and yellow.  The super large yellow cucumbers tend to be bitter.      

To start the relish, I take my large pickling cucumbers, cut them in half and scoop out the seeds.  I don't peel them, since I think the peels 1) add a bit of extra nutrients and 2) make the relish more crispy.

The easiest way I have found to mince the vegetables is to pulse them in the food processor.  SO EASY. 

I picked a bunch of miscellaneous peppers from the garden to add to the relish.  I make sure to get some red peppers in there, too. 

Then, the minced cucumbers, onions and mixed peppers are put in a large bowl and sprinkled with turmeric. 

Then, the whole mixture is soaked in salt water for 3-4 hours. 

Just a couple more steps and voila!  homemade canned cucumber relish. 

Cucumber Relish

  • 2 quarts chopped cucumbers (about 8 medium)
  • 2 cups chopped misc. sweet peppers (make sure you get red in there)
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 cups white distilled vinegar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
Combine vegetables in a large bowl; sprinkle with turmeric.  Dissolve salt in 2 quarts of cold water and pour over vegetables.  Let stand 3 to 4 hours.  Drain, cover vegetables with cold water and let stand 1 hour.  Drain thoroughly.  Combine sugar and vinegar in a large sauce pan.  Tie spices in a spice bag, add to sugar mixture.  Bring to a boil, pour over vegetables.  Cover; let stand 12 to 18 hours in a cool place.  Bring vegetables to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until hot.  Pack hot relish into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Adjust two-piece caps.  Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.  Makes about 6 pints.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Clear" Coleslaw

I've decided that I like vinegar/oil based dressing rather than mayonnaise based dressings for coleslaw.  "Clear" vinaigrette dressings are healthier, and I really like that delightful sweet-and-sour tang.

I made this quick and easy coleslaw the other day, and it was a hit.  You can certainly adjust the recipe based on your personal tastes, or what you have on hand.  Also, it is best if you can let this coleslaw rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour - the resting period allows the vegetables to pick up flavors from the vinaigrette. 


One last note: you can certainly use green or red cabbage - I just liked the color of this red cabbage I picked from the garden. 

"Clear" Red Coleslaw

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar or honey (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar (I used the roasted garlic variety)

  • 1/2 head medium sized cabbage, shredded finely
  • 1 cup green onions, sliced finely
  • 1 cup celery, sliced finely
  • 1 carrot, shredded finely

In a large bowl, mix together all of the dressing ingredients thoroughly.  Add all of the coleslaw ingredients, and mix - don't worry if the mixture seems a little dry at this time.  The vegetables will give out some water and create a looser dressing.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.  Before serving, give the salad a stir, taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary.  Feel free to add any other vegetables you enjoy!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Beef Po' Boys

Charlie loves sandwiches. In fact, I would go as far as to say that sandwiches are one of his favorite meals. Because of this, I am constantly looking for tasty new sandwich recipes. I've heard of "Po' Boys," but have never tried one.  I know there are many different recipes, ingredients and ways to make a Po' Boy, and that flexibility was partially what made the sandwich so appealing to me.

Just as an FYI: a Po' Boy is a traditional sandwich from Louisiana.  They generally consist of a good quality bread, some sort of meat (sometimes with gravy), and in general are topped with mayo, lettuce, pickles and tomatoes.  

The other day, we got our latest issue of "Cooks Country" and included was a Po' Boy Sandwich recipe that looked delicious. I modified their recipe to suit our tastes and what we had on hand, and the results were well worth the effort.  

The process was a little time consuming. I brined a beef chuck roast for about 8 hours, then slow roasted it in a pan of gravy for about 4 hours. After pulling it out of the oven, I let the meat rest for a little while before shredding it and adding it back to the gravy.

To assemble the sandwich: slightly toasted Italian sub rolls, the delicious, fork-tender beef mixed with gravy, topped with sliced provolone cheese, a large slice of fresh garden-ripe tomato, and pickles. I know it sounds weird - but it was so delicious.


Beef Po' Boys

  • 1 (4 or 5 pound) chuck roast
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons old bay seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • Reserved meat and gravy
  • 4 (8 inch) Italian sub rolls, split lengthwise and toasted
  • mayonnaise, optional
  • tomato slices
  • provolone cheese slices
  • pickles (I used my bread and butter pickles)

Mix all brine ingredients together and add thawed meat. Let sit in refrigerator for 8-12 hours. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F and make sure oven rack is in the lower-middle position. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add beef roast. Sear on all sides. Remove from skillet and place the roast in a baking dish. Add flour and wine and stir with whisk to dislodge as much of the browned bits in the bottom of the pan as possible.  These browned bits are called "fond" and they pack a powerhouse of flavor.  The process of adding a liquid (the wine) and scraping up the fond is called "deglazing."

To the fond/wine/flour mixture, slowly add the beef broth, whisking all the while to prevent lumps. Bring the mixture to a boil, making sure to continue scraping up all the fond from the bottom of the pan.  Let simmer for four or five minutes, or until a little bit thicker, then pour the mixture over the beef roast. Cover with tin foil or lid, and bake for about 4 hours, or until the roast pulls apart easily with a fork. Internal temperature should be at about 150 degrees F.

Transfer the roast to a cutting board, cover loosely with tin foil and let rest for at least 20 minutes. Save the gravy in the bottom of the pan!  After the meat rests, use forks and shred the meat, adding the meat to the saved gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if needed.

To make sandwiches, start at the bottom. Pile meat and gravy on the bottom part of the toasted sub roll, then, lay the cheese slices right over the hot meat so they can melt. Next, add the tomato slices and pickles and (if desired), spread the inside top of submarine rolls with mayonnaise. Finish with the sub top.  Done!  A tasty, meaty, super-messy sandwich - ready to eat.

Hint: make sure you have at least two napkins.  And if you are like me, maybe a bib.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Caramelized Pears

It is pear season!  Pears are one of our favorite fruits.  One day several years ago, Charlie heard an idea for caramelized pears on the radio.  We tried the recipe, and immediately fell in love with it.

Caramelized pears are a very simple, delicious dessert that makes it seem like you spent a lot more time fussing than you really did.  I changed a few things from the original recipe, just to suit our tastes.  We like to top our warm caramelized pears with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a small scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream.

As a side note, the vanilla sugar I use is very easy to make: I just put a vanilla bean in a small shaker filled with sugar.  After about a month, the vanilla flavor has delicately infused into the sugar.  Vanilla sugar is a delightful topping for this caramelized pear recipe - and for many other recipes as well!   

Caramelized Pears

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Peel each pear, then in half and remove the core and stem.  Place in small baking dish.  Sprinkle with sugar and dot with butter.  Bake for about an hour, or until pears are caramelized.  Remove to a pretty dish, and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Sprinkle pears and ice cream with a tiny bit of cinnamon.  Serve warm.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Iced Coffee Drink

Do you remember that I promised you our ice coffee recipe?  Well, here it is (finally!)!

For a recap regarding how to make coffee concentrate, you start with a bunch of ground coffee (we grind our own using this lovely grinder from Charlie's mom - as you can see it fits on any wide-mouth canning jar - so handy!).

Mix the coffee grinds with an equal amount of water, and let the mixture sit for about 24 hours.  Then you drain the mixture and collect the coffee concentrate.  We use our Aeropress to extract as much coffee as possible.

To make your iced coffee drink: fill a glass (or canning jar) with ice.  Here I am using a wide mouth pint jar.  Add 1.5 to 2 ounces of the coffee concentrate.

Next, add 1.5 to 2 ounces of water,  three ounces of milk, and sweetening of your choice: options are sugar, honey, sweetener or sweetened condensed milk.  We like the sweetened condensed milk the best, but it is a little more challenging to mix in well.  


If you are feeling generous, you can even share your delicious iced coffee with that special someone in your life....

Easy Iced Coffee

  • 1.5-2 ounces coffee concentrate 
  • 1.5 to 2 ounces water
  • 2 -3 ounces milk or half and half or both
  • sweetener of choice, to taste (sugar, honey, sweetener or sweetened condensed milk)
Fill a glass with ice.  Add coffee concentrate, water, milk and sweetener to taste.  Add a straw and enjoy! 

Of course, there are so many ways to make iced coffee.  How do you make yours?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Shrimp Cocktail

Charlie and I love shrimp.  It is what we consider a "special treat -" to us, that means we only buy shrimp once a month or once every couple of months.  So when we do get to eat shrimp, it really is both a special occasion and a treat!

One of our favorite ways to cook shrimp is to use Alton Brown's brining and broiling technique - the brine in particular is really what makes all the difference.  The shrimp come out plump, juicy and bursting with flavor.  In fact, they really don't need any cocktail sauce at all.

The raw, shell on, deveined shrimp rinsed and ready for the brine.

I do the brining in a gallon plastic bag - so easy and I don't have to worry about washing and sanatizing a raw-shellfish-bowl when the brining is done!

The shrimp and ice cubes brine for 20 minutes.  As you can see I got as much air out of the bag possible - kind of an at-home 'cryovac infusion' technique. 

The shrimp removed from the brine, tossed in a little olive oil and laid out on a tin-foil lined cookie sheet.

The shrimp right out from under the broiler - and into an ice cold bowl they go!  The object is to stop the cooking process immediately.

The lucious shrimp cocktail. 

Hey!  Whose hand is that???  I'm still taking pictures!  [Charlie was excited to enjoy some shrimp.]

Have you ever tried brining shrimp?  What did you think?  Please let me know your thoughts on this recipe if you try it!

Brined Shrimp

  • 1 pound frozen deveined, shell-on shrimp, thawed (for this recipe, I use either jumbo or extra large shrimp)
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 cups ice
  • Olive oil
  • Dash Old Bay Seasoning
Place a clean cookie sheet in the refrigerator or freezer.  This is to chill the shrimp immediately after they are done broiling. 

Make sure the shrimp are deveined.  Place shrimp in a gallon plastic bag, or large bowl.  Add all remaining ingredients except the olive oil and dash of Old Bay Seasoning.  Swoosh the bag around a little until the sugar and salt is dissolved.  Refrigerate mixture for 20 to 25 minutes - don't let the shrimp sit in the brine any longer, though, as they will get too salty (voice of experience speaking here). While shrimp are brining, place a baking sheet or broiler pan under oven broiler and preheat for 5 minutes.  Remove shrimp from brine and drain thoroughly.  Rinse the shrimp under cold water and dry on paper towels. In a large bowl, toss shrimp with olive oil and sprinkle with Old Bay seasoning, if desired.

Place shrimp onto a sizzling sheet pan and return to broiler immediately. After two minutes, turn the shrimp with a pair of tongs. Return the shrimp to broiler for one minute.  Transfer to the cold cookie sheet and refrigerate immediately, until shrimp have cooled completely.

Once shrimp have chilled, arrange them in a martini glass with cocktail sauce or as desired.

Friday, September 6, 2013

"Slick Grease"

My mom has baked cakes for people ever since I can remember, and she has this one great cake supply store she has gone to for at least 20 years.  One of the things she always used to buy was something they called "slick grease."  It was really slick - just brush it in the cake pan and done - no flour or shortening mess to deal with. 

When I was a teenager, I happened across a recipe for homemade slick grease - and we've been using it ever since!  Cheap, easy and so handy to have around. 

Slick Grease

Equal parts of:
  • Shortening
  • Vegetable oil
  • Flour
I usually make this in 1/2 cup increments: so, 1/2 cup each of flour, oil and shortening.  Then, I use my hand mixer to mix very well.  Then, put it in a Tupperware and store it in the refrigerator indefinitely.  Then, when I need to grease a cake pan or muffin tins or a loaf pan or any baking dish ... (ok, you get the idea!) I just take a pastry brush and brush a nice layer into the pan.  Ready to fill with a delicious batter or dough!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dried Apples

I first ate dried apples as a snack at my aunts house when I was 13.  We were all playing Monopoly when she pulled out a jar of dried apple slices, and I fell in love with their natural sweetness and the hint of cinnamon she dusted them with.

To start off a batch of my own dried apples, I like to use just a bit of fresh squeezed lemon juice to help prevent browning. 

I love my old fashioned apple peeler.  It saves so much time!  For this batch, I decided to leave some apple peels on and remove some.

While I am slicing and coring, I let the rest of the apple slices sit in a bowl of cool water with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice.  Aren't these Gala apples beautiful?

Then I drained them thoroughly...

and laid them out on the dehydrator racks.  You can sprinkle them with a dash of cinnamon if you wish!

I set my dehydrator to 135 degrees F +  ran it for about 6 hours = a beautiful, healthy snack.

Dried Apples

  • Apples
  • bowl of water
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • cinnamon, optional

Cut apples into thin slices  - you can peel them or leave the peels on for a little added fiber and nutrients.  Dip in the water/lemon juice solution to help prevent browning.  Lay out in a single layer on drying rack.  Dust with a little cinnamon if desired. 

If using a food dehydrator, set at 135 degrees F and dry until apples are leathery (about 7 hours), or very dry (about 10 hours), or quite crispy (12-15 hours).  We like ours a little softer - more leathery than crisp.  One thing to note is that all apples have a different moisture content and will dry at different speeds.  I was using Gala apples for this batch, and they were leathery in about seven hours.  I think the important thing is to check them at the minimum recommended time, and continue to check them every hour or so until they are done.  If you don't have a dehydrator, you could dry them in a 170 degree F oven (or as low as it will go) for 6-7 hours or until they are dried to your liking!

Allow the apples to cool completely.  I store my dried apples either in a quart canning jar, or a ziploc bag.  They should keep for about 6 months in a cool dry place, but if you are looking for longer storage, put them in the freezer.


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