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    Entries in homemade is best (62)


    Vanilla Sugar - The Season's Sweetest Gift

    I’ve made flavored sugar a few times in the past. There was lime sugar, orange sugar, and grapefruit sugar. I’ve also mentioned vanilla sugar a time or two, like in my vanilla bean bread pudding, but I’ve never posted an actual recipe for it. This year, however, I’ve decided to give it as a holiday gift to all of my friends and family. (Shhh, don’t tell them. It’s a surprise.) Not only is it a fantastic thing to make just to have on hand in your own house, but it really is a wonderful homemade gift. It needs time to age, though, so you’ll want to get started soon.

    Here’s what you’ll need: 

    • Organic sugar
    • Vanilla beans 

    Yep, that’s it. Just two ingredients. That’s why it’s more important than ever that they’re really high quality. You really do want to use organic sugar for this. As for the vanilla beans, personally, I think you can’t beat Penzeys Mexican Vanilla Beans. (Have I mentioned that Penzeys opened a store like 5 minutes from my house?!)

    So first of all, you need to decide how much vanilla sugar you’re going to make. I needed to make 27 bottles. Each of my bottles holds 3 cups, so my mixer can handle doing 4 at a time. I recommend using 3-4 cups of sugar per vanilla bean. These 24 ounce jars are perfect. For me, that meant each batch was 12 cups of sugar and 4 vanilla beans. Measure your sugar into the bowl of your mixer and set it aside.

    Next, slice each vanilla bean down the middle, leaving it intact for about an inch at one end.

    Then, open up each half and carefully slide the back side of your knife along the length of the pod, scraping out the tiny seeds from within.

    Look at that gorgeousness. I think these little seeds are far more deserving of the moniker ‘black gold’ than any caviar.

    Drop the seeds into your sugar.

    Then, with your paddle attachment, mix on low speed for about 5 minutes or so. The vanilla should be nicely broken up and dispersed throughout. If you don’t have a stand mixer, this is going to be a bit more work. You could do it in a bowl with a whisk and elbow grease, or you could put it into a larger container with a lid and shake, shake, shake. Either way, you’re looking at quite a workout if you’re doing more than one or two jars.

    Place a (now empty) vanilla bean into each jar.

    You’re going to want to use a wide mouth funnel. If you’re using wide mouth jars, I highly recommend this one. It fits perfectly. Ones that fit regular mouth jars are a bit easier to come by.

    Pour the vanilla sugar into the jars.

    You want to fill them quite full because they’ll settle a bit as they sit.

    And there you have it, homemade, and seriously amazing vanilla sugar. (Your whole kitchen will smell like vanilla for hours to come.)

    Just pop on a lid and put it somewhere safe for at least a month. The longer the better, really. Aren’t they pretty? Vanilla sugar is a great gift for just about anyone. It’s fantastic for sweetening coffee or tea, or you can use it in place of regular sugar in any recipe.

    Now, if you were to buy vanilla sugar (if you can even find it) it will just be regular sugar that has had vanilla bean pieces sitting in it. Sure, it will taste slightly like vanilla, but the aroma won’t overwhelm you when you remove the lid, and it won’t have all these beautiful vanilla seeds dancing through it.

    What is your favorite homemade gift to give or receive?



    Zucchini Bread with a Twist (of Lime)

    Zucchini season is definitely in full swing, here in Utah. When visiting my mom recently, she sent me home with four of them from her garden. One of them was a little larger than I generally like to eat, but was perfect for grating and baking. During that same visit, Mom fed me a piece of zucchini bread she had made. It was flavored with orange and had raisins, nuts, and chocolate chips in it. Needless to say, it was delicious. I had her email me the recipe with every intention of making it, but as the story usually goes, I had to make a few changes. I had just returned from San Diego with a bunch of seriously amazing limes (it’s legal to bring fruit out of California, right?) so of course I had to use those in place of the orange. And since I was using lime, I had to use coconut oil. And remembering our lime, coconut, and white chocolate bread pudding, I had to substitute white chocolate chips. And then there were the raisins… I don’t like to keep them in the house because I don’t trust my scattered brain to not leave them somewhere Otto might possibly find them, (if you’ve ever owned a beagle you’ll understand the lengths they’ll go to for food) and raisins/grapes are extremely toxic for dogs. So in place of those, I used dried cranberries. Other than that, it was exactly the same. Except for the tangy lime glaze I added. Ok, so it was nothing like Mom’s. It was, however, just as delicious.

    Here’s what you’ll need: 

    • ½ cup coconut oil
    • ½ cup canola or vegetable oil
    • 1 ½ cups sugar
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 ¾ cups grated zucchini (1 medium-ish zucchini)
    • 2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
    • 2 Tablespoons lime zest
    • ½ cup dried cranberries
    • ¼ cup hot water
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup whole wheat flour
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ½ teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 cup pecans
    • 1 cup white chocolate chips 

    Make sure all of your ingredients are room temperature before you begin, including the zucchini and limes. Place the cranberries in a small bowl and pour over ¼ cup hot water. Microwave them for 30 seconds, and then just leave them in there until you’re ready for them later.

    Now for the limes. You’ll probably need two medium sized ones for this recipe. You should get about a Tablespoon of zest and 2 Tablespoons of juice from each one.

    Be sure to only remove the green bit, the white stuff is bitter.

    Grate your zucchini. I usually just use a box grater (I actually really love this one) because it’s just too much of a pain to clean the food processor.

    You want the coconut oil to be room temperature but still in its solid state when you measure it.

    Then it goes into the bowl of your mixer along with the canola oil.

    And the sugar.

    Mix those on medium speed for about 2 minutes. There should be no more lumps of coconut oil and should be a nice, creamy white color.

    Add the eggs one at a time.

    Be sure each one is incorporated before adding the next. Don’t panic if it looks a little bit curdled like this.

    Add the vanilla and mix it in.

    Followed by the lime zest.

    This is the part where I had planned to tell you to remove the liquid from the cranberries and add 2 Tablespoons of it to the lime juice, but it turns out that’s about how much you’ll end up with, so don’t bother. Just dump it in with the cranberries.

    Add the zucchini and the lime juice. (you can see mine is pink from the cranberry water)

    Stir that in and add the cranberries. The zucchini will try to attach itself to the beater, so just scrape it down.

    Now for the dry ingredients. Combine the flour, soda, powder, and salt in a bowl. This is probably a good time to preheat your oven to 350°.

    Then add them to the bowl, mixing just until everything is combined.

    You’ll want to chop your pecans just slightly. You don’t want them to get lost in the bread. I like big nuts and I cannot lie… What? Tell me you weren't thinking it too.

    Put your nuts into the bowl along with the white chocolate chips. I used mini ones, but they disappeared completely during the baking process, so in the future, I will use regular sized ones, or even chunks. Whatever you use, fold them in gently.

    Divide the batter between two greased and floured loaf pans. Mine are fairly big 9x5 pans, which made for loaves that were somewhat vertically challenged, (this is where Hubby would insert a short joke about how I should feel in good company or something) but they are still perfectly delicious. If you use smaller pans, you may need to bake them for a few extra minutes, but it should be pretty close.

    Into your preheated 350° oven for about 45 minutes. When they’re done, a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean, and the loaves will be a nice golden brown color.

    Allow them to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, and during that time, prepare the glaze. Into 2 Tablespoons of lime juice, sift ½ cup powdered sugar. Stir until it comes together into a nice, smooth glaze. It’s fine if there are a few little bits of lime pulp in it.

    Apply your glaze to the warm loaves… um, you'll just have to trust me, it’s going to look a lot more appetizing when you’re done.

    Brush it over the entire top surface of both loaves. Although the goal is to keep most of the glaze on top, some of it is bound to run down the sides, so you might want to place the cooling rack on a sheet pan before you start. Did I forget to mention that part?

    Allow them to cool completely before slicing. You’re going to love the tang of the lime glaze and the cranberries, with the sweetness of the white chocolate and the nutty crunch of the pecans. The coconut flavor definitely plays second fiddle in this recipe, so if you want to bring it out a bit, feel free to stir in some shredded coconut when you add the pecans and chips.

    What’s your favorite way to use of those zucchinis from the garden?