|Vanilla beans + cheap vodka = tastebud happytown - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
I received a great Christmas present last year, a lovely bottle of vodka filled with whole vanilla beans that had been soaking in there for God knows how long, rendering the once-clear liquid into a rich, marvelously caramelized brown. I believe modern science would call that, "vanilla extract." So simple, so lovely and a whole freakin' bottle of the stuff! My friend who gave it to me recommended I keep re-topping the liquid with more vodka as the levels dropped, plus adding more whole vanilla beans as I come across them, just to keep up the strength of the mojo. I did find myself in the enviable position of having quite a few vanilla beans and the need to make sure they stay well-preserved until eventual use, so I took my friend's lead and had a reasonable excuse to buy cheap vodka at the liquor store. I started to soak a few vanilla beans in a small recycled maple syrup bottle, using Maker's Mark bourbon. It yielded a nice vanilla bourbon that made for a very pleasant addition to cocktails, but was a little expensive to batch-soak vanilla beans for when I'm craving chocolate chip cookies. My friend assured me that the cheap bum-tastic vodka would be fine, given its neutral spirit quality and for baking, the alcohol would burn off, so it's not like anyone would feel the hobo burn in a batch of brownies.
|From flower, to bean, to booze bottle - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
It's kind of hard to imagine that wrinkly, gnarly-looking vanilla beans come from such a pretty plant like the orchid. Unlike my inability to keep orchids alive and thriving in my house, I do now have a thriving supply of vanilla extract in my pantry. Getting past the occasional trip to the liquor store to pick up a refill bottle of shamefully cheap booze, it's a nice way to keep the vanilla beans well-lit and preserved for future desserts.
|Yay to quick, easy garlic paste and Muppets - Photos by Wasabi Prime and Muppet Wiki|
My latest kichen shortcut was inspired by a Costco impulse buy. I think the old saying needs to be revisited, because Costco is truly the mother of invention. What exactly does one do with four pounds of peeled garlic cloves, anyway? I didn't really buy four pounds of peeled garlic cloves... without at least a hint of intent. I love the flavor of roasted garlic -- who doesn't? I don't always have the planning time mapped out to roast a head of garlic for a dish, so when I saw the gignormous bag on the shelf, the Wasabi brain said, "oven magic, baby." Spread out across a foil-covered cookie sheet and tossed with about a tablespoon of olive oil, the cloves are then covered with another layer of foil to keep the moisture in, and left to roast in a 350-degree oven for about forty minutes. Depending on how you feel about garlic, it will make your house smell like heaven or hell, but it will absolutely keep the vampires away. For, like, ever. Four pounds of garlic cloves, once roasted to caramelized softness and mashed into a pulp by a fork, fills a couple of good-sized jars. It was probably reduced to about four or five cups' worth of roasted garlic paste, and thanks to Muppet Wiki (my life is complete now, isn't yours?), I had three -- THREE -- jars of garlic paste, ah-hah-haaaaah. I don't expect anyone to use this wealth of flavor all in one week, so once the jars are cooled, throw the extras in the freezer for later use. I probably go through my supply of roasted garlic paste once every one or two months, depending on what I'm cooking, but it works for just about everything and the roasting kills that slightly hot garlic-ness. It's a nice fast flavor addition and I don't add any salt or pepper during the roasting, just to keep it basic, and you can always build the flavor as you cook with it.