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strawberry simple syrup

June 24, 2015
by Lacy

Tip: Use Up Fruit in Simple Syrups

One of my favorite ways to use up fruit that’s just this side of the compost bin is in simple syrups.  Even strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches (or just about anything else) that aren’t quite good to eat fresh and raw any more, will lend their flavor to a simple syrup — and from there cocktails, lemonade, popsicles, ice cream, or trifles.

Simple syrup is, really, crazy simple:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • assorted fruits or herbs

strawberry simple syrup

Bring everything together to a boil in a saucepan and then let cool.  I like to leave the fruit in until I’m ready to use the syrup, to lend it even more flavor.

This strawberry version is excellent in my favorite fresh strawberry margaritas (which I will probably make tonight) and in the best darn strawberry lemonade you’ll ever drink.

Here is the secret to perfect homemade lemonade: don’t add water.

Pour equal parts strawberry simple syrup and lemon juice (fresh is amazing; bottled is just fine) into a big pitcher and stir.  Fill glasses with ice.  Pour lemonade into glasses.

The ice melting is the perfect amount of “dilution” for the lemonade, and it never gets too watery — even at the bottom of the glass.

You’re welcome.

A third, most excellent use for this is in trifle.  Cube up a pound cake, or angel food cake if you’re feeling virtuous.  Whip a lot of cream; sweeten it if you like, or don’t.  Wash and slice up a bunch of perfect berries. Then put a layer of cake in a bowl or pretty trifle dish, if you have one, and sprinkle liberally with strawberry simple syrup. Follow with a layer of berries and a layer of cream and repeat ad nauseum until you run out of bowl. You can also use pudding in place of the whipped cream, but do the homemade stuff, yeah?

It also wouldn’t go amiss on this lovely fruit salad in place of the lemon balm syrup.

And it keeps those strawberries (or other fruit) out of the trash or the compost bin. Score one for us against food waste and for deliciousness.


June 22, 2015
by Lacy

Grilled Brussels Sprouts

I’m always looking for new ways to do veggies on the grill, and this one was a big success!

The vinegar and high heat bring out the sweetness of the sprouts. Even avowed sprout-haters will want to give this tasty recipe a try!

I used wooden skewers and found it easiest not to try to put them through the core of the sprouts, but rather through the outside layers of leaves (none fell off!).

You can use your favorite bottled Italian dressing here, or make your own. I split the difference with one made from a mix from Penzey’s spices.


Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Grilled Brussels Sprouts


  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 1/2 C Italian dressing
  • wooden or metal skewers


  1. Halve the Brussels sprouts, but don't worry about trimming them too much. Thread sprouts onto skewers. (If using wooden skewers, soak in water for 15 minutes before using.) Baste the sprouts liberally with Italian dressing. Grill over high heat, turning regularly about 10 minutes, or until char marks form. Baste once more with Italian dressing before serving.

What’s your favorite way to grill veggies? Let us know in the comments below!


June 15, 2015
by Emily Klopstein

Slow Meat 2015

When we were invited by Whole Foods Belmar to be their guests at the 2015 Slow Meat Fair held in Denver June 4-6, well it was one of those questions you just don’t even have to think about. Yes of course – we’re there!

We are both huge proponents of the Slow Meat credo: better meat, less meat.  And we both prefer to buy our meat from Whole Foods because of their easy-to-understand rating system.


The tenets of Slow Meat:

  • Learn to read labels. Whole Foods makes that easier with their 5-Step Animal Welfare meat rating system. (Their Level 1 rating is still better than almost everything you can buy at a conventional grocery store!)
  • Go meatless at least one day a week. We call this going flexitarian, and you can do it practically pain free!
  • Promote biodiversity. This means eating different kinds of meats and fish, heritage breeds, etc.
  • Demand better meat. Wherever you eat — your work, your kids’ schools, etc. — start asking for better meat, or choose meat-free options.
  • Eat nose-to-tail. That means discovering new-to-you cuts! Get to know your butcher and use our meat sheet to know how to cook them.

Ready to try your hand at slow meat? Whole Foods Belmar has generously donated a $50 gift card for one lucky reader (to be used for meat — or not!). Enter below, then read on for more on our fantastic Slow Meat experience.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We first ducked into the speaker’s tent to hear Temple Grandin speak. Highlights are as follows:

  • “I feel very stronly about animal welfare because I can remember the bad old days…and the bad old days were BAD.”
  • “Cattle done right can improve rangeland.”
  • Fixing slaughterhouses? That’s easy. But Grandin said more than once that “outside the slaughter house things get a lot more complicated.” I’m not sure she meant it so broadly, but I took this to mean changing people’s attitudes and consumer behavior.
  • Grandin was alarmed about “bad becoming normal,” something she was seeing across the country and across the industry where bad breeds, bad traits, and bad practices were being accepted and treated as normal.
  • “We can make [the system] really really good. But we can’t make it perfect.”


The Terra Madre Kitchen featured native foods from all over the world. We tried the Navajo Nation foods presented by Chef Franco Lee, showcasing smoked churro lamb with prickly pear bbq sauce, sumac pudding, cornmeal cake, and blue corn cookies studded with pine nuts (these cookies were wonderful!!). Unfortunately we missed out on the rest of Terra Madre offerings — mostly due to a sudden bout of Colorado-style extreme wet weather. Later in the day the Terra Madre Kitchen had South African foods, Mexican, and foods of the American South.


We ate 4 slices (each!) of Tender Belly Bacon (oh my gaaaawwwwddd). If you didn’t already have a favorite bacon, this is it. We also split a Niman Ranch burger and duck fat French fries as prepared by Marczyk Fine Foods. Marczyk does burger night every Friday night through the summer so you can try this outstanding creation for yourself — seriously, one of the best burgers we have ever eaten.


Then, after nearly getting washed away by torrential rain and hail, it was onto the Cured Meat, Artisan Cheese, and Craft Beer Tasting and Seminar with Jeff Roberts. Cured meat is fermented meat, and Jeff is an expert on the the history, renaissance, and flavors of cured meats in the US. He choose beer over wine for the tasting since the carbonation in beer helps cut through the fats in cheese and hams.

Three Colorado beers were featured: Epic Brewing Company’s (Denver) Blue Ski Lager, Ska Brewing’s (Durango, CO) Rudie Session IPA (this one was SOOOO good!), and Breckenridge Brewery’s Oatmeal Stout.


We sampled 9 different cured meats from across the US all on one fine plate:

  1. Black River Meats Vermont Del Duca Prosciutto
  2. The Pig Restaurant North Carolina Lady Edison Country Ham
  3. University of Kentucky Hereford Ham
  4. Johnson County Hams North Carolina Mangalista Prosciutto
  5. Red Table Meats Minnesota Extra Vecchio Salami
  6. Salt and Time Texas Chile Pequin & Mexican Oregano Salami
  7. Cleaver & Co New Orleans Bresaola
  8. Smoking Goose Indiana Saucisson Rouge – this one was out of this world, made from pork fat, heart, liver, red wine, and chiles. They have a tremendously wide range of other meat products.
  9. Nduja Artisans, Chicago, Nduja – Crazy! It’s a kind of Calabrian spreadable salami! Let me repeat – spreadable salami! Like a salami pate, bright red like a red pepper dip, spiced with harissa, and a variety of Mediterranean chiles. Unreal!

Addtionally, 2 cheeses were presented: First Snow, an ash-coated bloomy-rind goat cheese from Jumpin’ Goat Dairy in Buena Vista, CO. And Cacio Pecora, a sheep cheese from Fruition Farms in Larkspur, CO. [Insert every positive and effusive adjective you know here] – it was so good (and I don’t even/usually like cheese)!

To have all this curated on a plate by an expert was stunning. To think that these were the finest things Roberts, a full-time meat professional and professor, had found — the meats and flavors that had absolutely rocked his world — well you can imagine how staggering it was for our mere lay-foodie tastebuds.

We’re still processing and recovering from this meat onslaught, but without doubt it was a profound experience and one that further cemented our commitment to well-raised meats and the artisans who are doing amazing things with it!


June 9, 2015
by Lacy

Ratatouille Crostini with Goat Cheese

I seriously considered calling this “Garden Ratatouille” because I have almost every single ingredient growing in my garden (I’m only missing shallots, garlic, and bay leaves).

But whatever you call it, ratatouille just tastes like summer, and it’s a wonderful way to use up the abundance of summer veg you may have in your garden or CSA boxes this time of year.

I make this ratatouille pretty frequently as a main dish, usually served over couscous, polenta, or quinoa, but I decided to plate it up as an appetizer as part of theLilly’s Table Virtual Progressive Dinner blog tour blogger Lilly Steirer invited me to be a part of!

As part of her Virtual Progressive Dinner, Lily is offering a very cool set of printable meal planners — specifically to help you make the most of your summer produce! — and you KNOW how much I love a good printable. 😉

This recipe ticks a bunch of summer produce boxes. It also freezes well — which is great, because the ratatouille recipe makes more than you’ll need for appetizers (unless you’re having a BIG party!). Stick the leftovers in the freezer and you’ve got a quick weeknight side dish to serve with grilled meats or fried eggs.


Ratatouille Crostini with Goat Cheese

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Ratatouille Crostini with Goat Cheese

Ratatouille is an incredibly versatile recipe that, on its own, is vegan, Paleo, and gluten-free. Combined with toasted bread and goat cheese, it makes a gorgeous crostini perfect for a summer fête.


  • 2 medium sized zucchinis (11 oz)
  • 2 small eggplants (11 oz)
  • 2 shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1.5 lbs tomatoes
  • 1/2 yellow pepper
  • 1/2 red pepper
  • 1 T tarragon, chopped
  • 1 T parsley, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 oz goat cheese
  • 1 baguette


  1. Chop the eggplant and zucchini into small cubes. Place in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. Let sit in a sink for 30 minutes. (See note.)
  2. Heat 2 T olive oil in a thick-bottomed pot (Le Creuset style) over medium heat. Add the zucchinis and eggplants and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft. Set aside. Meanwhile, chop the peppers and slice the shallots and garlic thinly.
  3. Heat 2 more T olive oil and then add the garlic, peppers and shallots. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until soft. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes.
  4. Add the tomatoes and mix well. Cook for 5 minutes before adding the zucchinis and eggplants again.
  5. Add the chopped herbs, the bay leaf and the tsp of sugar, and cook uncovered on low heat for 1 hour.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste.
  7. To prepare the crostini: Slice the baguette on a diagonal about 1/2 inch thick slices. Toast lightly. Top with ratatouille, crumbled goat cheese, and additional chopped herbs, if desired.


The first step is a technique which draws the extra water out of the vegetables. In French, the technique is called "dégorger les légumes." Because of the extra salt added in this step, be sure to taste the finished ratatouille before salting in the final step.

You can prepare the ratatouille a day ahead; the flavors only get better the longer it stands. However, don't prepare the crostini until ready to eat, as the juices from the veggies will make the bread soggy the longer they stand.

Ratatouille is also wonderful as a side dish for grilled meats, or as a main dish with couscous, polenta, or quinoa.


June 1, 2015
by Emily Klopstein

DIY Almond Milk (and why I’m giving it up)

Making your own almond milk – Is it worthwhile? If saving money is the chief motivator then it’s a pretty clear cut answer: no. Even with the lowest possible price for almonds in our area (on sale for $4.99/lb at Sprouts), homemade almond milk ended up costing 250% more than the cheapest store-bought option. However, there are many other reasons one might want to DIY it.

11.687 cents per oz
4.67 cents per oz
EWG Score: 4.5-5
Almond Breeze
4.68-6.7 cents per oz
EWG Score: 4-5
5.76 cents per oz
EWG Score: 4-5
Califia Farms
7 cents per oz
EWG Score: 4.5-5
Pacific Natural Foods
10 cents per oz
EWG Score: 1.6

DIY Almond Milk on LaughingLemonPie.comBut first off – is it even a comparable product? Does homemade stand up to store-bought? In my opinion, yes. As a cold beverage the homemade almond milk was delightful and nearly identical to store-bought.

I use almond milk in coffee and tea though, and the heated up DIY version had a lot more texture than store-bought – not gritty or crunchy or thick really, but just bulky. It didn’t ruin the heated drink, but it was different than store-bought’s silky smoothness.

Additives, Emulsifiers, and Stabilizers

After a niDIY Almond Milk on LaughingLemonPie.comght in the refrigerator, the DIY almond milk separated. It was easy enough to shake the jar and get it back to rights, but it does show it’s homemade-ness after a while. Of course store-bought almond milk relies on emulsifiers to keep all the particles suspended, and processing to ensure uniformity. Many people might be interested in DIY-ing almond milk to avoid the additives and emulsifiers that come with store-bought. A letter published in Nature recently suggested that commonly used emulsifiers (carrageenan, lecithin, polysorbate-80, polyglycerols, and xanthan gum, among others) make the gut more vulnerable to conditions like colitis, IBS, and metabolic syndrome. Read more about The Food Additive that Might be Making You Sick.

Another difference could be in shelf-life. I didn’t keep my DIY milk long enough to test this, but various sources suggest it has only a 4 day life in the fridge. That’s a lot different than the clearly-printed and weeks-from-now date printed on a carton of store-bought. With the price tag of homemade, you’d hate to have a batch go bad on you. Since the process is fairly simple, it is something a dedicated DIYer could and would have to do often rather than in bulk. In other words, make a few small batches throughout the week rather than one big batch once in a while.

For more data and comparison check out Simmer and Boil’s What You Need to Know About Almond Milk. It lists pros and cons, and compares almond milk to whole almonds and to regular (cow’s) milk.

EWG Food Scores

Though I was first curious about the cost of DIY almond milk, seeing the article about emulsifiers got me thinking more critically about what I was buying/drinking. When I looked up almond milk in the EWG Food Scores database I found that most almond milks score around 5 (out of 10). The Environmental Working Group (EWG) ranks all manner of foods by nutrition, ingredient, and processing concerns. The EWG’s best rated almond milk is made by Pacific Foods (EWG Score: 1.6, 10 cents per ounce). 5/10 is not an alarming score, and EWG lists no outright reasons to favor DIY over store-bought, even in the 5/10 category for this product.

Environmental Impact – Packaging & Recycling, Transport & Growing

Once I started questioning my weekly almond milk purchase, I bumped up against the environmental impact of store-bought. It was really really bothering me to throw away those cardboard milk cartons. Some facilities recycle the containers, and others don’t – unfortunately mine falls into the “don’t/won’t” category. You can call your local recycler to see if they have that capability, as suggested by The Sierra Club’s Mr Green. And/or delve further into the question of packaging’s environmental impact over at Treehugger: Which Milk Container has the Lowest Carbon Emissions.

DIY Almond Milk on LaughingLemonPie.comKeeping DIY almond milk in a glass jar in the fridge avoids the cost of shipping the almond milk to the store, and the cost of downcycling the container. If we take a wider angle though, the cost of growing and shipping almonds all over the country comes into question – and THAT is a pickle. Almonds have been caught up in the California drought crisis conversation (How Almonds Became a Scapegoat for California’s Drought), as covered by NPR’s The Salt (which references the original Slate and Mother Jones pieces that brought attention). It makes me more than a little sick to think I’ve contributed to this problem: “[almond milk production] has exploded in the past decade. It’s a $4.8 billion dollar market. And that’s encouraged farmers to rip out annual crops like tomatoes and melons in favor of orchards. But unlike annual crops, a farmer can’t fallow an orchard.”

Waste By-Product

Making almond milk results in lots of leftover “nutmeat.” I put it in the compost bin, but anyDIY Almond Milk on LaughingLemonPie.comone making their own almond milk on a regular basis would have a lot of organic material to address. (I wonder what big-time almond milk manufacturers do with the stuff?) One Green Planet suggests that the remaining nutmeat could be used as almond flour (once dried) – that would be a boon and a two-fer for bakers living gluten-free and interested in making their own almond milk. The price of almond meal/flour isn’t insignificant and if you factor that into the cents per ounce of the homemade milk it might make DIY cost-effective.

You Might Wonder…

DIY Almond Milk on LaughingLemonPie.comCan it be done with a very crappy blender or do you need a Vitamix? YES! I have one of the world’s worst blenders and it still made beautiful almond milk. No need for a Vitamix. I will say that while 2 cups of soaked almonds and 4 cups of water fit inside the blender, it’s too much content to blend. To get everything moving around and not overflowing I processed it in 2 batches. (This is why most recipes you’ll see call for just 1 cup almonds to 2-4 cups water.)

How many almonds does it take? 2 cups of almonds (12oz) plus 4 cups of water result in DIY Almond Milk on LaughingLemonPie.com32 ounces of almond milk (or a 1/4 gallon). To make a 1/2 gallon (as most commonly sold) would require 4 cups of almonds and 8 cups of water. At the sale price of $4.99/lb, 12 oz of almonds to get 1/4 gallon of almond milk costs $3.74 and the 4 cups of almonds needed to make a 1/2 gallon would cost $7.48.

Almond Prices: If Sprouts almonds aren’t on sale (regular price $7.99/lb), then the next best price for almonds is at Costco. Costco almonds are $5.597 per pound (sold as a 3lb bag).

In Conclusion…I’m giving it up.

Given all the above, for me personally I’m going with a rogue third option. Not homemade, not store-bought, but no almond milk at all! Radical, huh? Being mindful of myself and my choices, I don’t feel like I can bear the karmic weight of either DIY or store-bought. And frankly, when I’m honest with myself – I don’t NEEEED it. I started using almond milk as a milk substitute when I noticed that cow’s milk made me very very sleepy (like nearly-passing-out sleepy). I’ve gotten in the habit of having a cup in the morning with coffee or tea, and another coffee/tea/almond milk in the afternoon for a pick me up. But really it’s just a habit. And habits can be changed.

Since I really don’t have any trouble waking up, eliminating almond milk from the morning shouldn’t be a problem. As for the p.m.? Time for me to explore better afternoon snack options like Lacy’s list of 84 Healthy Snack Ideas.

Have you made your own almond milk? What motivates you to DIY?

how to pick the best berries

May 18, 2015
by Lacy
1 Comment

Seasonal Eating: Berries

It’s berry season! Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are the perfect addition to morning yogurt, brunch pancakes and also make excellent afternoon snacks. Here are some tasty recipes to try:

Continue Reading →

Rum Raisin Scones on

May 10, 2015
by Emily Klopstein

Rum Currant Scones with Rummy Icing

This is an alternative to Rum Raisin Scones. For me personally, raisins are too big and squishy for baked goods. I liked this currant version of the Rum Raisin idea best – the currants didn’t absorb as much rum so the scones were merely suggestive of rum in a very pleasant way. Plus the milder scone base made it a delicious idea to drizzle them with an icing made from the soaking liquid.

Rum Raisin Scones on

Rum Currant Scones with Rummy Icing


  • 1/3 cup rum
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1.25 cups cream
  • For icing:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • dash cinnamon
  • 2-3 T soaking liquid


  1. Soak currants overnight in rum.
  2. Heat oven to 425 degrees.
  3. Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl to combine (flour, sugar, bp, cinn, & salt).
  4. Drain rum off of currants - keep soaking liquid to use in the icing!
  5. Stir currants into the dry ingredients.
  6. Add the cream, and stir.
  7. Once most of the liquid is incorporated use your hands to quasi-knead the dough against the sides of the bowl until it comes together and all the dry ingredients are absorbed. (You could knead it on a surface - but that's just one more thing to clean up!)
  8. Shape the dough into a disk about 1" thick.
  9. Place on a baking sheet or baking mat and cut into 8 scones.
  10. Divide into 8 triangles and spread them across the baking mat/sheet.
  11. Bake for 17 minutes, until the tops are starting to brown.
  12. Once scones cool, apply icing. For a milder icing, try maybe just 1 T rum and 1 T milk. Start with just the 2 T liquid and see what consistency icing that gets you. Add more liquid bit by bit until you achieve a good drizzling consistency.

Rum Raisin Scones on

May 10, 2015
by Emily Klopstein

Rum Raisin Scones

Read all the details and background of the Rum Scone saga here. Or cut to the chase and see the recipe below 😉

I originally tried this recipe with vanilla and using a new vanilla technique but found that the rum flavor overpowered the vanilla seeds and so it wasn’t a worthwhile use of such a pricey ingredient.

Note – this is an overnight recipe! The raisins need that time to soak. It’s possible to try simmering the raisins in rum on the stovetop, that might save the overnight step.

If raisins aren’t your thing and/or you’d like a slightly less rum-raisiny scone, I’ve also got a recipe for Rum Currant Scones which are much milder and my personal fave.

Rum Raisin Scones on

Rum Raisin Scones


  • 2/3 cup rum
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1.25 cups cream
  • For icing:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • dash cinnamon
  • 2-3 T liquid


  1. Soak raisins overnight in rum.
  2. Heat oven to 425 degrees.
  3. Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl to combine (flour, sugar, bp, cinn, & salt).
  4. Drain rum off of raisins - keep soaking liquid if you'd like to use it in an icing!
  5. Stir raisins into the dry ingredients.
  6. Add the cream, and stir.
  7. Once most of the liquid is incorporated use your hands to quasi-knead the dough against the sides of the bowl until it comes together and all the dry ingredients are absorbed. (You could knead it on a surface - but that's just one more thing to clean up!)
  8. Shape the dough into a disk about 1" thick.
  9. Place on a baking sheet or baking mat and cut into 8 scones.
  10. Divide into 8 triangles and spread them across the baking mat/sheet.
  11. Bake for 17 minutes, until the tops are starting to brown.
  12. Once scones cool, apply icing. You can use the remaining rum/raisin liquid in your icing, but watch out - it's strong stuff! Alternately you could go mild by using milk as your icing liquid. Start with just the 2 T and see what consistency that gets you. Add more liquid bit by bit until you achieve a good drizzling consistency.

May 10, 2015
by Emily Klopstein

Boozy Scones!

Rum Raisin Scones on LaughingLemonPie.comSometimes a great idea hits and you just have to run with it. [Cue the unused bottle of rum hanging out in a cupboard and the rapidly desiccating currants and raisins in the pantry.]

Yep – that’s right: Scones + booze. Specifically, Rum Raisin Scones.

To be thorough, I tried two batches – one with raisins and one with currants. For me the currants were preferable, but I’m kind of anti-raisin in general (too squishy), especially in baked goods. However, for hubs the currant version wasn’t rum-raisin-y enough and so batch #2 featured bona fide raisins bursting with rummy juice.

In both cases I soaked the tiny dried fruits overnight. The currants, being already so small and dried, didn’t absorb much rum. The raisins plumped up nicely and absorbed a lot, making a much more rummy scone. One as of yet untested idea would be to cook the fruit in the rum, to boil it for some time rather than soaking overnight. Simmering would save time and also cook off the alcohol, which some bakers/eaters might appreciate.

To my mind and palette, the Rum Currant Scones were perfectly rum flavored, and not overpoweringly so. The addition of a icing made with the remaining soaking liquid (ie raisin flavored rum!) – well, that really took it up a notch! The Rum Raisin Scones were already so rummy on their own that the rum-raisin icing was overkill.

Whether or not the alcohol baked out in the oven…I myself am not so sure. Prior to trying the raisin version I would have automatically said yes, of course it bakes off, no problem. Having tried the raisin scones myself – WHOOOO!!! I say there’s still some active rum in there. It makes for a very mellow morning, but alligator tears from the scone-spoiled 4 year old who was told that no, she couldn’t have any – these scones are for Mommies and Daddies only. Oh the heartbreak and betrayal on her tiny face!

On the other hand, I am very sensitive to alcohol and you and yours may not be as sensitive. Still and all, either way, these would be a novel addition to any brunch spread.

Rum Raisin Scones on LaughingLemonPie.comSince we’re talking about fruit soaked in alcohol, let’s talk about vanilla for a sec, m’kay?! I was inspired to explore a new frontier of baking trickery involving soaking halved vanilla beans in alcohol for 2-4 weeks in order to squooosh out the seeds rather than hoping not to cut myself while slicing dried vanilla pods and scraping out the seeds. It didn’t work out for me in this application, but soaked vanilla pods are an interesting technique in general and one I’ll be experimenting with more in the future (as outlined in Innovations in Vanilla).

What new scones or other inspiration are coming out of your kitchen these days? You know we’d love to hear about it!

May 9, 2015
by Emily Klopstein

Innovations in Vanilla

Rum Raisin Scones on LaughingLemonPie.comTwo things converged recently that lead me into a new arena of baking trickery.

First I read a Facebook post by Good Cheap Eats about buying vanilla beans in bulk from Amazon.

Reaction #1: Whaaaaahhhhttt?!

Reaction #2: Duh! I buy everything else off Amazon, why not vanilla beans?

Reaction #3: How had that not occurred to me before?!

Why was I feeling guilty for buying pricey vanilla beans in twos or threes from Penzey’s or Trader Joe’s when I could afford many more by buying them vacuum-packed and in bulk online? AYE! No longer.

Nearly simultaneously I read a short tip in Cooks Illustrated (based on something they saw on CHOW via guru Sarabeth Levine) about storing halved vanilla beans in vodka or rum for two weeks then simply squoooshing out the tiny seeds from moist and pliant pods rather than trying to not cut yourself while cutting a pod in half lengthwise then scraping out the seeds. Hard to explain, but here’s the Cooks Illustrated write up and here’s the (46 second) video from CHOW illustrating the point:

On their own these two items might have been interesting-but-lost-on-me bits of info – but together! Mwooohahaha! A harmonic convergence I was open to trying out.

Unfortunately, for me the results are as of yet inconclusive.

On the one hand it is definitely worth trying, especially with low-priced beans. Unfortunately, in both the Rum Raisin and Rum Currant Scone recipes, the vanilla flavor was drowned out by the pervasive rum flavor. Not the best recipe to showcase this new technique to it’s fullest, but an intriguing notion nonetheless.

Subsequently I tried the vanilla seeds from my vodka and rum soaked beans in a soon-to-be-blogged Clementine Carrot Vanilla Cream Quick Bread (uhhh, yeah, the title is a work in progress). There, the alcohol flavor of the soaking liquid overtook the vanilla flavor, and didn’t cook out or cook off as I expected.

However, I am quite sensitive to alcohol and maybe this isn’t a problem for other bakers and other palettes.

I noticed that the beans were much more pliable and I got a lot more seeds out after about 4 weeks of soaking. There’s really no limit to how long you could soak these, the alcohol should preserve them until you’re ready to use.

I am not planning to re-dry and grind the pods as Sarabeth does in the video – Cooks Illustrated tried and concluded that it wasn’t really worthwhile. Actually, so far I’ve just been putting squooshed beans back into the soaking jar and finding that further soaking yields more seeds. I imagine I’ll do a vanilla rum sugar once I’m sure the pods are spent.

Overall, I’m not sure yet about this process and idea. I have a second order in for more vanilla beans, so I’ll keep tinkering with it and get back to you. In the meantime – let us know if you try it, have heard of the idea, do this already, or if you have any other vanilla ideas and innovations!