Homemade Vanilla Extract

When you look at the label of a high-quality bottle of vanilla extract, you’ll generally find two ingredients: alcohol and vanilla. It’s true–one of the most expensive and commonly used baking ingredients is really that simple. In fact, vanilla extract can easily be made at home with a little patience and…well, more patience. Surprised? I was.

I’ll start with the bad news: this isn’t going to be an instant gratification project. It will be the exact opposite actually. Two whole months of waiting, watching the contents of the bottle slowly grow darker and darker until it resembles real vanilla extract. The good news: it is well worth the wait! Once your extract peaks, you can keep topping the bottle off with more alcohol as you use it. The same vanilla beans will continue to give flavor.

Making your own vanilla extract also gives you full creative license over the flavors. Different types of vanilla will produce subtly different results–including Madagascar, Tahitian, and Mexican to name a few. The alcohol you choose to use will also affect the flavor of the extract. Vodka is virtually flavorless and will yield the most clean vanilla taste. On the other hand, rum adds another dimension of flavor that pairs well with so many baked goods. I chose to use rum because I like the extra spice it gives my pumpkin pies, cakes, and cookies.

With the holiday season coming up, vanilla extract also makes a fabulous gift! Friends and family will be impressed by your mad kitchen skills. If you want to make a larger batch, just use the 3 vanilla beans:1 cup alcohol ratio.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

  • 3 vanilla beans
  • 1 cup vodka or rum
  1. Using the tip of a sharp knife, split the vanilla beans in half, leaving an inch on each end intact.
  2. Place the beans inside a sterilized bottle or jar and fill with your choice of alcohol. Secure the bottle or jar with an airtight lid and place in a cool, dark place.
  3. Gently shake up the bottle about once a week. Vanilla should be ready to use after 2 months.

I picked up these gorgeous Madagascar vanilla beans from World Spice Merchants downtown.

Carefully cut the vanilla beans down the center, leaving an inch on each end intact.

I decided to use rum since I like the extra kick it gives my baked goods. You can also use vodka for a cleaner vanilla flavor.

And the waiting begins! When you are ready to use your vanilla, there may be a few specks of vanilla bean floating around in the extract. Generally, I don’t see this as a problem–it’s just extra flavor! However, if this bothers you, you can easily strain the extract through a coffee filter before using.


Tomatillo Salsa Verde

Right now, Seattle is experiencing some fabulous summer-like weather. The sun is shining, my tomatoes keep growing, and Seattleites are in uncharacteristically good moods. This almost makes up for all of that record-breaking rain in June…almost. As a result, even though fall is less than a week away, I am craving light summer food rather than pumpkin spice lattes.

I received some tomatillos in my CSA shipment last week and I thought this would be a good opportunity to make salsa verde. Honestly, I had never worked with tomatillos up until this point. Their bright green color and paper-like husks always eluded me. I was never quite sure what the heck to do with them. Now I know–make salsa verde! This is a great starter recipe if you have never worked with tomatillos before. The food processor or blender does most of the heavy lifting and the result is absolutely delicious.

I love this salsa over Trader Joes tamales for a quick meal, or inside of a veggie quesadilla. This also makes a great sauce for chicken or fish dishes. Honestly, I am not sure if I am ever going to be able to go back to the jarred stuff!

Tomatillo Salsa Verde
Adapted from Gourmet

  • 1 pound fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and quartered
  • 1 fresh serrano or jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 large white onion, cut into 4 wedges
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • Pinch of ground cumin (optional)
  1. Coarsely purée tomatillos, chile, onion, garlic, water, and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor or blender.
  2. Transfer to a large heavy skillet and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature, then stir in cilantro, lime juice, salt to taste, and cumin if desired.

To prep the tomatillos, peel the husks off and dispose. Then cut the tomatillos into quarters.

You can either use a jalapeño or serrano pepper for this recipe. The jalapeño will result in a milder salsa.

After blending the mixture in a food processor or blender, transfer to a heavy skillet or pot. My Le Creuset did the trick. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the salsa is reduced to your desired consistency.

If you are making this recipe ahead of time, add the lime and cilantro just before serving for the freshest taste. I know there are a lot of cilantro haters out there, so just know that this salsa actually tastes wonderful with or without it!

Very Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

And I’m back! School and other life occurrences have kept me very busy lately. For a while there, we were eating almost every single meal out. It almost drove me insane. Now that I’m making a little more time to cook again, I’ve realized how important it is for my wellbeing. The is nothing more relaxing to me than cooking in my kitchen with a glass of wine and some good music!

We all know how much I love David Leibowitz’s Perfect Scoop. I especially love his recipes that are quick and egg-less. Truth be told, I am not the biggest fan of ice cream. I actually have a serious soft spot for frozen yogurt (or “fro-yo”, as we used to call it in the Bay Area). When I first moved up to Seattle, I was taken aback by the lack of frozen yogurt shops in the city, and disheartened by the blank stares and eye rolls I received when I dropped the word “fro-yo” in the presence of locals. (Stop trying to make fetch happen) So, over the years, I developed a taste for the heavy, sweet, gourmet ice cream that seems to be ever so popular up here in the great Northwest.

When I saw David’s recipe for frozen yogurt made from greek yogurt, I knew this was right up my ally. Greek yogurt makes the world go round, so how could this not be good? The result is light, creamy, and tangy. Plus, it’s super easy and healthy. I pared the recipe down to work with the two-cup container of greek yogurt that Trader Joe’s sells. However, you can use any brand, and any fat percentage.

Very Vanilla Frozen Yogurt
Slightly adapted from David Liebowwitz’s Perfect Scoop via Marcus Samuelsson 

  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt (either whole-milk, lowfat, or nonfat)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean pod (optional)

1. Mix together the yogurt, sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
3. Frozen yogurt can be served at soft serve consistency, or can be placed in the freezer for a few more hours to harden.

Trader Joe’s Greek-style yogurt is very affordable and comes in fat-free, low-fat, or whole-milk versions.

I used some of my homemade vanilla (recipe coming soon) found here!

To de-seed the vanilla pod, carefully cut the pod in half down the middle. The gooey dark brown stuff is the seeds. Take the back of your knife and run it down the pods to collect the seeds.

Watch the magic unfold in your ice cream maker!

I stored the frozen yogurt in the plastic Greek yogurt container. The container is flexible, which makes scooping much easier.

Paletas de Melón (Cantaloupe Popsicles)

Last month, I ordered my first paleta at our neighborhood Mexican restaurant. It was a simple avocado popsicle–made of nothing more than water, sugar, lime, avocado, and possibly some dairy. But it was mind-blowingly good. Having grown up in California, I am not quite sure how I missed the boat on paletas, which are Mexican ice pops. All I know is that I’ve been a popsicle-making machine ever since–making up for lost time, I suppose!

I’m currently working my way through Fany Gerson’s Paletas cookbook, which includes wonderful recipes for paletas, shaved ice, and aguas frescas. Fany owns La Newyorkina in NYC, and has fabulous paleta recipes including spicy pineapple, lime pie, coconut, strawberry, and more.

Since I received a beautiful, fragrant cantaloupe on my produce box last week, I decided to try out Fany’s recipe for paletas de melón. This was not your average store-bought popsicle. You can actually taste the freshness of the cantaloupe and the natural orange color really pops (pun intended). This is a fun and creative way to serve in-season fruit, and they are great for kids and grown-ups alike.

There are dozens of popsicle molds out there in a variety of shapes and sizes. I bought this inexpensive starter mold off of Amazon.com, and have been pretty happy with it. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the more expensive molds, but it is made out of BPA-free plastic and gets the job done. Fany also mentions that you can get creative with your own unconventional molds by using tall shot glasses, for instance.

Paletas de Melón (Cantaloupe Popsicles)
From Fany Gerson’s Paletas

Yield: 8 to 10 pops

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups chopped fresh cantaloupe  (about 1 small cantaloupe)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Combine water and sugar in small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Pour the sugar syrup into a food processor or blender. Add the melon, lemon juice, and salt and blend until smooth.
  3. If using conventional molds, divide the mixture among the molds, snap on the lid, and freeze until solid, about 5 hours. If using glasses or other unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set (1/2 to 2 hours), then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours.

Homemade popsicles are my new summer obsession.

Make sure your cantaloupe is ripe and fragrant, and cut it into bite size pieces so it will blend easily.

Using a blender or a food processor, blend until nice and smooth. Although, I am definitely not opposed to an occasional small chunk of cantaloupe in my popsicle!

Fill the popsicle molds leaving a 1/4 inch of space from the top. The mixture will expand in the freezer. Turn up your freezer to the highest setting and let the popsicles set for about five hours.

I got nine popsicles out of this recipes, but this will of course depend on the size of your cantaloupe and your molds.

To release the popsicles, run the mold under some warm water and wiggle the pops out. You can store them in individual baggies, keep them in the mold until you are ready to eat them, or eat them all on the spot!

Ad Hoc Buttermilk Fried Chicken: An Un-Simple Recipe

If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only bring one cookbook with me, it would be Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. The laboriously delicious recipes, informative how-to sections, and endearingly goofy action shots of Thomas in the kitchen make it the most special cookbook I own. To sum it up, I pretty much have a massive culinary crush on Thomas Keller. I won’t even get into the macarons from Bouchon Bakery.

Admittedly, I have read the entire cookbook through and through about fifty times, but have only actually made a handful of his recipes. It’s just not an everyday cookbook. All of the recipes have multiple steps and are intended to please a crowd. These are special recipes for gatherings with family and friends.

The actual Ad Hoc restaurant is located in Yountville, CA–which has become one of my favorite little towns in wine country. Ad Hoc is known for their buttermilk fried chicken which is supposed to be life changing. I have been eying the recipe for the longest time, and was inspired by a post from Alice at A Mama, Baby and Shar-Pei in the Kitchen to bite the bullet and give it a try. I decided to make this for my family during the last night of my visit in the Bay Area and it definitely got the Brisbo family seal of approval!

What makes this fried chicken special (and time consuming) is the 12 hour soak in an aromatic brine of parsley, lemon, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Disclaimer: this recipe is far from simple, but it’s the best fried chicken I have ever made. My best advice is to read the directions thoroughly before starting!

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home

Special equipment: Candy or oil thermometer and meat thermometer

  • Two 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens

For the Brine:

  • 5 lemons, halved
  • 12 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
  • 1/2 cup clover honey
  • 1 head garlic, halved through the equator
  • 1/4 cup black peppercorns
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 2 gallons water

For the Coating:

  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt
  • Rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish

For Dredging and Frying:

  • Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the brine: Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

2. Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings. Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add in the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours (no longer, or the chicken may become too salty).

3. Remove the chicken from the brine (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Pat dry with paper towels, or let air-dry. Let rest at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

4. If you have two large pots (about 6 inches deep) and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark and white meat at the same time; if not, cook the dark meat first, then turn up the heat and cook the white meat. No matter what size pot you have, the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides of the pot. Fill the pot with at least 2 inches of peanut oil and heat to 320°F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.

5. Meanwhile, combine all the coating ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, the second bowl of coating, and the parchment-lined baking sheet.

6. Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; dip them into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl; then dip them into the second bowl of coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan.

7. Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry for 2 minutes, then carefully move the chicken pieces around in the oil and continue to fry, monitoring the oil temperature and turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11 to 12 minutes, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through, and very crisp. Meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

8. Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack skin-side-up and let rest while you fry the remaining chicken. (Putting the pieces skin-side-up will allow excess fat to drain, whereas leaving them skin-side-down could trap some of the fat.) Make sure that the oil is at the correct temperature, and cook the chicken drumsticks. When the drumsticks are done, lean them meat-side-up against the thighs to drain, then sprinkle the chicken with fine sea salt.

9. Turn up the heat and heat the oil to 340°F. Meanwhile, coat the chicken breasts and wings. Carefully lower the chicken breasts into the hot oil and fry for 7 minutes, or until golden brown, cooked through, and crisp. Transfer to the rack, sprinkle with salt, and turn skin side up. Cook the wings for 6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the wings to the rack and turn off the heat.

10. Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. Add the herb sprigs to the oil (which will still be hot) and let them cook and crisp for a few seconds, then arrange them over the chicken.

The recipe calls for two 2 1/2 to 3 pound chickens which are very small and hard to find. I ended up using two four pound organic chickens and this worked just fine.

I used the same pot to make the brine and soak the chicken. After soaking the chicken overnight, I pulled it out of the brine, gave it a rinse, patted it dry, and stored it in the fridge until I was ready to fry that evening.

A deep fryer would be ideal for a job like this, but alas I had to opt for the stove top. A candy or oil thermometer will help you control the frying temperature and a meat thermometer will help you determine if the chicken is fully cooked after you pull it out of the oil.

I am trying the gluten-free thing, so I used Bob’s Red Mill GF all-purpose flour which worked like a charm. The coating definitely has a kick which I love! If you are sensitive to spicy food, cut down on the cayenne pepper.

By the time dinner rolled around, I was completely exhausted. But one bite of the fried chicken made it totally worth the effort! Usually fried white meat tastes stringy and dry. The brine in this recipe makes even the white meat taste amazing. Next time, I might just use chicken breast to make some grown up chicken tenders.

Balsamic Onion Marmalade

I always make fun of Jeff because he loves expensive sandwiches. In an effort to save us some money, I made it a point to try to recreate the expensive sandwich experience at home. I started by choosing a “special sauce”–which seems to be the backbone of any overpriced gourmet sandwich. After scouring my cookbooks and the internet for ideas, I finally settled on Tom Colicchio’s balsamic onion marmalade.

You can make this marmalade with any type of onion–red, yellow, Vidalia, Spanish, Maui, whatever your heart desires. Each type of onion will add a unique taste and texture to the marmalade. I decided to go with Walla Walla to keep it sweet and local.

I spread my balsamic onion marmalade on a baguette with turkey and goat brie and wow did this take your average sandwich to the next level. This sweet, tangy, and savory marmalade can be used on absolutely anything–pizza, cheese and crackers, burgers, and more. Jeff was very impressed!

Balsamic Onion Marmalade
Slightly adapted from ‘wichcraft via Serious Eats

Yield: 2 to 3 cups

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 8 cups)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or dutch oven over medium heat until it slides easily across the pan. Add the onions, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, until the onions are soft.
  2. Add the sugar and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the onions appear dry.
  3. Add the vinegar and reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, until the onions are soft and dry. Add additional salt and pepper to taste if necessary.
  4. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store the marmalade in the refrigerator.

Cut the onions in half from top to bottom, then slice thinly into half moon shapes.

My Le Creuset worked perfectly for cooking down the onions, but a heavy skillet will work as well.

Since I used sweet Walla Walla onions, I cut down the sugar by about a tablespoon. If you are using a sweet variety, you may consider doing this.

Keep you marmalade in an airtight container in a the fridge. It should keep for several weeks.

Get creative with your marmalade. I also made a smoked mozzarella, balsamic onion marmalade, and fig pizza. It was amazeballs!

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

I really love the taste of rhubarb, but I just haven’t been able to break away from my trusty rhubarb crisp routine. So when I happened upon this recipe for rhubarb upside-down cake, I just had to try it. This cake is really something special. The sour cream makes the batter so moist, and the orange zest adds an extra layer of flavor. But make no mistake–the rhubarb is still the star of the show.

Rhubarb comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Because of this, no two rhubarb upside-down cakes will come out looking the same. If symmetry and predictability is your thing, this may not be the recipe for you. You can try to position the rhubarb just perfectly, but when it cooks, chances are it will shift around a bit. There is something beautifully imperfect about this cake–just go with it!

The original recipe is from Martha Stewart, but I felt like there were a couple crucial steps left out of the written directions. Hopefully my additions help! Also, a quick note. I understand that some upside-down cakes can be made in a spring form pan. Unfortunately, a lot of liquid is released from the rhubarb when it is cooked, which may leak through the spring form and start a small fire in your oven. I may or may not know this from personal experience…

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Yield: 10 servings

  • For The Topping
    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • Coarse salt
  • For The Cake
    • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for buttering pan
    • 1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut on a very sharp diagonal about 1/2 inch thick
    • 1 3/4 cups sugar
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • Coarse salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 cup sour cream
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the topping: Stir together butter, flour, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until moist and crumbly. Set aside in refrigerator until ready to use.
  2. Make the cake: Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep). Dot with 4 tablespoons butter (cut into pieces). Toss rhubarb with 3/4 cup sugar; let stand for 2 minutes. Toss again, and spread in pan with red side of the rhubarb facing down so it will show when the cake is flipped.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Set flour mixture aside.
  4. Beat remaining stick butter and cup sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in orange zest and juice. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream, until smooth. Spread evenly over rhubarb. Crumble topping evenly over batter.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and top springs back when touched, about 1 hour. Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely.

Let the cake cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. The rhubarb will be too hot to handle safely right after baking. But if the cake sits much longer, it may stick.

The rhubarb I picked up from the farmers market was adorably small, so I had to pull quite a few stalks to make a pound.

I chose the reddest rhubarb at the market, but this is just an aesthetic preference–greener rhubarb will taste just as good.

Dot the butter in the pan and wedge in the rhubarb. If there is sugar left at the bottom of the bowl, sprinkle it on top of the rhubarb.

The batter will be a little thick, so gently smooth it over the rhubarb with a spatula.

The crumb “topping” will become the bottom of the cake once it is flipped.

Ta-da! Rhubarb upside-down cake in all its glory.

Kitchen Adventures: Homemade Dog Treats

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of watching two dogs for the day–my dog Cali and Jeff’s mom’s dog Chloe. After a chaotic few minutes of running around our 700-square-foot apartment at full speed, they eventually calmed down and my sanity was restored. As you probably already know by now, I love dogs. We adopted Cali in 2009 at the Tacoma Humane Society. Which, by the way, is a dog goldmine if you are looking to adopt in the Seattle area.

When I first saw Cali at the pound, there weren’t exactly fireworks. She was so desperate to get out that she was making the most ear-piercing squealing sound and would not stop unless someone was petting her. I could tell she was going to be a serious handful. But to top it off, the pound had decided to give her a temporary name that was coincidentally the name of Jeff’s ex-girlfriend. Talk about bad juju. I probably would have kept looking had it not been for Jeff’s persistence. And I am so thankful for that, because the moment I was able to spend some time with Cali in the visiting room, my heart just melted.

Two years later, my gut instinct about Cali turned out to be true–she is a strange and crazy dog. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. She keeps life interesting and has brought me and Jeff even closer.

The day we brought Cali home. She loved her little doughnut bed. Until she discovered our bed…
I love these homemade dog treats from Brown Eyed Baker because they require limited ingredients and so easy to make. Also, Cali is totally obsessed with peanut butter as are most dogs. I bought my dog bone cookie cutter at Sur la Table for a buck, but you of course can use any shape you want.

Peanut Butter Dog Treats
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1 cup skim milk
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In another bowl, mix peanut butter and milk. Add wet mixture to dry, and mix well. If the mixture is too dry, gradually add more milk one teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together.
  2. Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and knead.
  3. Roll out to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out shapes. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake 20 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container.
If you are having trouble getting the dough to come together, gradually add teaspoons of milk until you are able to form a ball.
Get ready for a rolling pin workout. My arms are still a little sore!
Roll out dough. Cut out shapes. Place on pan. Repeat.
I was able to get about 25 cookies out of this recipe. When you do the math, it’s probably cheaper to make the treats at home as opposed to buying them at a fancy dog store.
These two are up to no good.
Dog treats for days!

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee

We spent the past glorious week in Missoula, Montana–hiking, sleeping in, cooking, eating bison burgers, and just unwinding in general. Jeff’s mom has a beautiful house that sits on top of a mountain overlooking miles of tree-studded rolling hills. It’s a completely picturesque environment and always feels like a retreat from reality when we come to visit. And who doesn’t need to escape reality every once in a while.

It was in the mid to high 80s and sunny last week, which many in Seattle consider to be uncomfortably hot. But secretly I love those hot summer days. Every once in a while I crave that kind of heat–the kind that practically demands an ice cold beverage and legitimizes booty shorts as acceptable attire. Must be the Californian in me.

Cold  brewing has been making the rounds for a few years, and I just haven’t gotten a chance to try it until now. Now that I have, I don’t think I can ever go back. I’ve tried various methods for making iced coffee (french press, electric, stovetop percolator, you name it), and all have resulted in a diluted, disappointing mess. Cold brewing defies conventional logic by steeping the coffee at room temperature for an extended period of time rather than using heat to expedite the process. While this method takes more time (12 hours or overnight), it results in tastier, less acidic iced coffee. I recommend doubling or tripling the recipe and keeping the concentrated coffee on hand.

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee
Adapted from New York Times

Yield: 2 servings

  • 1/3 cup ground coffee (medium-coarse grind is best)
  • Milk and sugar to taste

1. In a lidded container or jar, stir together coffee and 1 1/2 cups water. (Alternately, you can do this in a french press to allow for easy straining). Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight or 12 hours.

2. Strain twice through a coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth. (Or strain through the french press if using). In a tall glass filled with ice, mix equal parts coffee concentrate and water, or to taste. Top with milk and/or sugar if desired.

After waiting 12 hours for the coffee to steep at room temperature, I used a coffee filter-lined sieve to strain the liquid. You can also use cheese cloth if you’ve got some handy.

You can keep the coffee concentrate in the fridge for up to a week so it’s ready when you need a caffeine fix. Check out the view from the kitchen–how could you not want to cook in here!

I used a 2:1 coffee to water ratio because I like my coffee strong. There really isn’t a science to this. It’s all about personal preference–some people even like to drink the concentrate straight. Add a splash of soy creamer and…bliss.

During our trip, Jeff and I spent a day at the magnificent Glacier National Park, which is about two hours outside of Missoula. I had big dreams of taking pictures of the gorgeous landscape with our nice SLR camera. In true Jeff and Lauren form, we forgot to charge the batteries. True story. After a brief moment of pure chaos and finger pointing, we just looked at each other, determined that we were both big idiots, and started laughing.

And thus the iPhone saves the day once again. Here are a couple of snapshots I took using Instagram:

Lake McDonald. Sadly, part of Going-to-the-Sun Road was closed because of late snow. While we couldn’t make it all the way to the top, we still got to see some magnificent sights.

Avalanche Lake–a four mile hike round trip. This picture really doesn’t do it justice. It is completely surreal to be surrounded by these enormous mountains. Here’s Avalanche Lake in 1901–it’s amazing how little has changed.

Warm and happy on a hike at The Loop. If you like adventure, you can actually hike in about four miles and stay at The Granite Park Chalet which was built in 1915. In the morning, you can hike all the way up to Logan Pass which is sure to have some amazing views. The Chalet is only accessible by trail and you have to bring all of your goods–food, water, linens, etc. Not exactly a five star hotel, but an experience none the less. This is definitely on the books for us when the whole park is open!

Morel and Spring Pea Pasta

Every now and then, I venture over to the University District neighborhood of Seattle–my old college stomping grounds. Only these days my objective is not to buy cheap pitchers of  PBR at Dante’s or the hit up the Gyro-cery for a greasy midnight snack. Nope, I go to the U-District to check out the gorgeous produce at the year-round farmers market. God, I feel old.

We’ve had an unusually cold winter and spring (even for Seattle), and I was getting a little bored of the beet, kale, chard, and carrot routine. So when I saw the bright pink rhubarb, oddly shaped heirloom tomatoes, and little Japanese cucumbers at the farmers market, I nearly squealed with excitement. I also ended up buying some beautiful shelling peas and going a little crazy at the mushroom stand. To me, a good selection at the farmers market almost trumps a Nordies Anniversary Sale. Almost.

I decided to make some fresh pasta with my (yep, you guessed it) Kitchen Aid pasta attachment, topped with a creamy morel and pea sauce. You can use any type of fresh or dried pasta your heart desires. I love how the touch of heavy cream and zest of fresh nutmeg brings out the flavors of the morels without overpowering. It’s the perfect springtime pasta dish, in my opinion!

Morel and Spring Pea Pasta

Yield: 2 Servings

  • 2 servings of fresh or dried pasta
  • 1 oz (3-4 medium sized) morel mushrooms, sliced into round strips and cleaned
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2/3 cup freshly shelled or frozen peas
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 small shallot, finely diced
  • Freshly grated Parmesan to finish (optional)
  • Freshly grated nutmeg to taste (optional)
  • Splash of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add pasta. Drain and set aside when cooked.
  2. While pasta is cooking, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy pan over med heat. Add 1 diced shallot and 1oz morel mushrooms. Saute until shallots are translucent, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Turn heat up heat to med-high. Add 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth and reduce until only about a quarter of the liquid remains in the pan.
  4. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream to pan and grate in some fresh nutmeg to taste. Reduce sauce by about half, stirring constantly until thick. When the sauce has almost reached your desired consistency, stir in the peas and cook just until tender, about 1-2 minutes. There is nothing worse than overcooked peas–so be very careful!
  5. Take the pan off the heat.  Salt and pepper to taste. Toss freshly cooked pasta with a splash of olive oil and top with sauce. Finish off with a little freshly grated Parmesan cheese if you wish.

The combination of morels and peas is simply delicious. To wash the morels, submerge the sliced mushrooms in a bowl of water and try to get all of the debris off of them. Then, send them through a salad spinner to ensure that they are completely dry. I don’t think this is a very conventional method, but the mushroom guy told me to do it, and it worked like a charm.

I am one of those strange people who finds shelling peas immensely therapeutic. Every pea will have a seam down the middle–find the end of the seam, pull it down, and open the pod. It may be a little frustrating at first but you’ll get the hang of it.

I can’t emphasize the use of freshly grated nutmeg enough. If you’ve never worked with whole nutmeg before, it’s not intimidating at all! Just scrape the nutmeg against the finest holes of a box grater a few times or use a microplane grater.

And I leave you with a sneak peak at my Japanese cucumbers getting ready to be pickled in some rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Pretty exciting stuff!