Vanilla Essence

A cupboard essential you can easily DIY

‘Why didn’t I know that before?’ Making your own vanilla essence is super easy, saves money and provides a quality ingredient that you don’t need to go to the shop for. BUT it isn’t instant so I am making this now for use in winter cooking.

Easy peasy make: cover vanilla beans with vodka for at least two months. I used 2 and a half beans in a 1/3rd of a litre bottle.

Do your research on quality of beans and proportion of bean to alcohol but it is that easy.

My advisers (bloggers and diy’ers galore) tell me you just top up the bottle with more vodka to make this a perpetual supply…

Walnut Windfall

The things we find during a lockdown cupboard clean…in this case a big bag of walnuts gifted by our neighbours last autumn. Determined to put them to good use here are some of the recipes I found on walnuts.org (California walnuts promo site)

Walnut pesto (replace pine nuts in the classic recipe)

Walnut and Parmesan ‘cream’ a veggie pâté alternative

Walnut ‘meatballs’ where mushrooms are used

Walnut honey butter, a sweet chunky ‘peanut butter’

Smoked spicy walnuts to nibble on with aperitifs

(Re) Waxed food wraps

These waxed wraps really come into their own when you are cutting down on cling film and foil.

Today I ‘re-waxed’ some of my older fabric squares to renovate and extend their life. It is more efficient than starting from scratch, even after months of use the fabrics still hold quite a lot of the original wax.

I sprinkle a teaspoon of wax pellets over the cotton square then sandwich it between parchment paper (baking or waxed paper will do) and run a hot -no steam- iron over it until the wax has melted in. I turn the fabric over and iron again so that excess left on the paper can be absorbed by both sides.

Subsequent sheets to be ironed need less wax (you can shave a beeswax candle if you don’t have any other wax) because you will have some residue left on your parchment paper.

These wraps fold nicely over bowls, around cheese or seal opened packets in the fridge. The warmth of your hands helps shape them enough to fit and they just wipe down between uses. You can see I store mine on the side of the fridge with magnets so I have them to hand.

Silver lining, cooking discoveries

New menus and cooking methods have flooded into our kitchen recently. Many discovered when browsing digital magazines courtesy of our library card. So here are the tastiest (we think) so far …

1.Savoury bread and butter pudding: basically fried leeks instead of jam on the bread and cheese in the ‘custard’ rather than sugar

2. broccoli pasta – cooking broccoli in with the pasta for the last 3 minutes makes it a lighter, tastier dish, even for the broccoli hater in the household. Top with your usual pasta sauce

3. Frozen bananas found lurking at the back of the freezer work brilliantly in banana bread. Made more mix than fits your loaf tin? Dig out the mince pie tray to make Muffins

4. Ingredients intended for stuffing that never made it to the Christmas table combine to make great meatball replacements. Why these hid behind the frozen bananas is a mystery.

5. Jamie Oliver is an inspiration. His no frills gnocchi (mashed potato leftovers with just enough flour mixed in) are lighter and lovelier than bought

6. Dredging steaming hot, par-boiled parsnips in flavoured flour means the flour sticks without need for egg wash. You can roast them immediately or freeze them ready floured so they can be roasted at a later date

Fly paper prettified

I love the daily ‘one good thing by Jillee’ blog post. Lots of practical tips to make daily life a little better. Her recent post for diy fly paper got me thinking.

We usually buy plastic window stick ons in France to deter kitchen invaders but as that isn’t feasible at present wanted to make a pretty version of Jillee’s paper strips. So I die cut pieces from brown paper before dipping them in a sugar/honey syrup and hanging the dried sticky piece near the fruit bowl ready for open window weather.

Tip: thread string through the paper before dipping, it is messy to do it afterwards.

Cheer me up, marmalade cake

In the face of February storms and thwarted plans a cake bake brings a little cheer. Found this recipe in the manual for my elderly bread maker. I couldn’t take the paddle out of the bread maker so baked this in the air fryer instead. Delicious.

Ingredients: 200g plain flour, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp baking powder, 50g softened butter, 50g brown sugar, 4 tablespoons marmalade, 1 egg, 3 tablespoons milk.

Mix dry ingredients then rub in butter and add wet ingredients, mix well and spoon into small pan lined with greaseproof paper. Bake for 30 mins at 170 degrees. If a knife blade comes out clean it might be ready, if not keep going for up to 50 mins (the bread maker timescale).

Hazelnut harvest

Hazelnut biscotti from bbc.co.uk/food – Paul Hollywood’s recipe, my photo!

How to use the hazelnuts that the French squirrels didn’t beat us to… a small harvest so I want to use them carefully. These biscotti will stretch and keep well so seem to fit the bill.

It is a recipe from the great British bake-off apparently but so easy that I would recommend it to anyone with a reliable kitchen timer. Half one batch shown here. Not as dry as the ones I have bought.

Their picture, can you tell the difference?

Flavoured salts

Flavoured salts lift simple recipes, they avoid waste by preserving herbs and fruit, they look great and are easy to make. Why not? Here are two ‘no weigh, use what you have’ versions.

For the rosemary and orange version the rosemary leaves were stripped from 5 long stalks ( I am keeping the stalks as kebab sticks). I peeled an ancient mandarin/satsuma that was lurking in the bottom of the fruit bowl, squeezed the juice over the rosemary, scraped the pith from the peel then chopped the peel into slices. The rosemary and orange peel was blitzed with about three tablespoons of coarse salt using the chopping attachment on my stick blender (I usually use it for making breadcrumbs).

Just a few seconds of blitzing produced a kaleidoscope of coloured salt. The mix was spread on a silicone baking sheet and dried in a low oven for about 30 minutes before storing in recycled herb jars.

The basil version was even easier. Once the basil leaves were blitzed into 3 tablespoons of salt I spread the lovely green mix on a silicone sheet and dried it in a low temp oven for about 30 minutes. I sprinkled dried chili flakes in before storing in glass jars. So pretty.

Try rubbing into chicken before you roast it, over boiled new potatoes or other plain veg, over sliced tomatoes …

Washable Bowl cover

Easy project, use lightweight cotton.

Cut a circle around the intended bowl two inches away from the rim. I use pinking shears to avoid fraying

Press over a hem of about an inch (lots of tucks and folds).

Sew around the hem. This creates a channel for the elastic. Leave a gap of a couple of inches.

Cut elastic an inch longer than a snug fit length around the bowl. Stick a safety pin through the elastic and thread it around the channel. Fix the safety pin through the other end of the elastic to check the fit. If ok, Zig zag over the overlapped elastic and finally stitch up the gap in the channel.