Thursday, January 6, 2011

Snow Day Kitchen Crafts and Reading

Today is yet another snow day and school's out, so per the 5:15 am phone call to let me know that, I've had a rather productive morning. Outside of the routine cleaning (a load of laundry using some homemade laundry detergent from my fabulous cousin, unloading/reloading the dishwasher and washing up some stuff by hand, and folding some clothes), I've had some time to explore something I've been interested in for a while... spice extracts.

I've been making my own vanilla extract for years now, but I've been curious about other spice extracts. I knew the process had to be similar, so I employed our friend Google to find out what I could about making orange, lemon, almond, and mint extracts. Here's what I found...

Orange and Lemon Extract: Basically, the process is the same as the vanilla extract. Peel the fruit, minus the white pithy stuff, and immerse it in vodka. Allow it to cure for a while, then use as you would any extract. You can leave the peel in, or strain it out, depending on your preferences.

Almond Extract: Again, similar process. Grind the almonds (the recipe notes using blanched, rather than roasted... I suppose roasted nuts might have lost some of the natural flavor oils in the roasting process), and put these in a jar with vodka. Allow to cure, then use. I would probably strain this one, just so you don't get almond bits in your baked goods, if that's not the desired result. Store in a cool dark place, as you would any spice or extract.

Mint Extract: Use 12-14 Tbs of fresh mint or 6 of dried with 3 cups of vodka. Store in an airtight glass container in a cool, dark place. I would chop or crush the mint for maximum extraction. I think this would be great with chocolate mint or peppermint, so I plan to try it in the spring when my mint comes back up. (This was compiled from several different sources, so there's no link here.)

I think any of these extracts would make a great gift, and a collection of all of them in small, pretty bottles would be so special for a friend who loves to bake. I especially love the homemade extracts, because you can control the quality of ingredients that goes into them. I recently learned that many commercial vanilla extracts contain corn syrup, especially the "imitation" ones, so that's even more of a reason for me to make my own, besides the fact that it's so much more cost effective than purchasing those tiny grocery store bottles.

** Note that I haven't personally tried any of these yet, so don't take this as gospel. Let me know if you do try it and how it works out!

Today, I'm also rereading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It was one of my favorite summer reads and has been fun to reread on this snowy morning. It's got me itching to order some seeds and get some veggies started now so they'll have a jumpstart in the spring. I loved my heirloom tomatoes last summer (before the deer found them), so I'm wanting to try some heirloom beans, squash, and root veggies this year. Maybe I'll get a garden plan sketched out before the end of the day...

I'd love to hear from you! Have you tried any of these extracts, or others? Are you finding yourself already hoping for spring after all this cold and snow (especially in the High Country)? Or are you just loving sitting curled up with a book, a blanket, and a cup of your favorite hot tea with your wonderful fuzzy at your feet?

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