Happy New Year! (and Homemade Vanilla Extract)

Happy New Year!  This is my first post celebrating the beginnings of a new year, and also my first post in over a month.  I’m slacking in the blogging department.  But what a perfect segue to announce my first New Year’s resolution, which is to blog as frequently as I had been before transitioning to my new job.

I had been wondering what my New Year’s post was going to be, and then I realized that I had a picture of our holiday gift give-a-way for friends/family in my blogging queue.  I was supposed to blog about these cute apothecary-looking bottles before heading off to NYC for Christmas, but alas, life just got hectic.  [I hope that my dear Hungry Foodies Pharmacy “patients” (aka, fans) will forgive me for my lack of posts.]

Our “thing” for the Holidays is to make a HUGE batch of salted caramels and saltine toffees, which is always a big hit amongst our family/friends.  Instead, we were inspired to do something different this year.  Err, I mean, last year.  Actually, I think we were still experiencing some PTSD from the previous year of candy wrapping for the Holidays.  PTSD from candy wrapping, you ask?  Well, we stayed up to 2:00 a.m. to finish wrapping our caramels and toffees, while on the brink of breaking up because we were so cranky and tired.  So, to spare our relationship, it was better that we did something that didn’t involve strips of wax paper and anything sweet :)

We really wanted to do something that tied my first year of blogging in with our holiday gift give-a-ways, so what not a better way than with homemade vanilla extract in a “medicine” bottle?

Homemade Vanilla Extract

2 high-quality vanilla beans
1/2 cup vodka
4 ounce amber bottle

Using a sharp knife, cut the vanilla beans in half, and then lengthwise to split them open.

Put the vanilla beans into the amber bottle and add the vodka. Seal bottle with a tight fitting lid. Store in a cool, dark area for for two months. Shake the bottle every once in a while.

Top off with vodka after a few uses to extend the life of the vanilla extract. If you notice it start to weaken, add another split vanilla bean.

Long overdue blog post, and homemade pomegranate jelly.

My apologies to my dear Hungry Foodies Pharmacy readers for it has been over a month since my last post. New life changes have kept me away from my kitchen. But I am now back in effect! I’m finished with my travels to Wisconsin for training, and I’m settling into my new job, new schedule, and new life.

I started my new job and I am loving every minute of it. I haven’t had an ounce of regret leaving my last job. Things have been extremely hectic with this new job because I was traveling to Wisconsin for three separate, week-long training classes every other week. This job requires that I become certified, which entails three exams and two projects that I must pass/complete before I can really delve into any major projects. So, I’ve been busily studying and working on projects for the last six weeks. I can happily report that I’ve passed two out of the three exams, and I am almost finished with my last project. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

One of the first things I wanted to make this weekend [that I had neglecting to do] was to remove the pomegranate arils from all the pomegranates off of our tree.  Our pomegranate tree did amazing this year!  In fact, it was almost a little overwhelming how many pomegranates we got this year.

What I was left with after removing all the arils, was bowls and bowls and b… you get the idea… of pomegranate arils.  But there also was what resembled a bloody murder scene with red pomegranate juice sprayed across the walls, window, countertop, and the floor.  It wasn’t pretty.

So I thought pomegranate jelly would be a great way to use/preserve the majority of our pomegranates. And not to toot my own horn… oh who am I kidding?  Of course I’m going to toot my own horn to say that this pomegranate jelly is to die for.  I’m just sayin’.

Stay tuned for a few other pomegranate recipes in the works!

Pomegranate Jelly

5 1/4 cups fresh pomegranate juice
1 packet plus 3 tablespoons less or no-sugar needed powdered pectin
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups sugar

Put a few small ceramic dish into the freezer.

In a non-reactive saucepan, heat pomegranate juice and lemon juice over high heat. Bring to a boil. Skim any of the white foam/impurities from the top. Reduce heat to medium-high, and add the powdered pectin. Whisk until all of the pectin has dissolved.  Add the sugar, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil while whisking until the sugar has dissolved.  [I prefer my jam/jelly a little more tart than sweet, so adjust the sweetness or tartness to your liking.]  Let it continue to boil for an additional two minutes.

Take out one of the ceramic dishes from the freezer.  Ladle a small teaspoonful of the jelly onto the cold dish and put it back into the freezer for one minute.  Remove the dish from the freezer and draw your finger through the jelly.  If the jelly does not close up the channel, then it’s ready.  [If you prefer your jelly a little more firmer, add a little more pectin.]

If processing, pour hot preserves mixture into a hot, sterile 1/2-pint glass canning jars, filling jar to within 1/4-inch from top; wipe rim and seal jar with lid. Put jar in water-bath canner or on rack set in a deep kettle and cover with hot water by 1 to 2 inches. Boil at 180 to 185 degrees F, and process, covered, 10 minutes. Transfer jar to a rack using tongs and let cool completely. Store in a cool, dark place, up to one year.

Makes five 1/2 pint jars.

Spam Musubi… the ultimate comfort food.

Spam is such an underrated meat.  It really deserves more attention than how much credit it’s given.  It’s such a versatile meat, just like it’s salty counterpart, bacon.  If I could, I would eat it all day long.  I love Spam.  And I’m not afraid to admit it either.  I love the combination of white rice and Spam.  Yum.  But my most favorite way to consume Spam is when it’s pan-fried in a teriyaki glaze, pressed against white rice, and wrapped tightly with nori.  Double yum.

When we were in Hawaii, we spent an entire day driving and exploring the Big Island.  And by exploring, I mean eating our way through the Big Island.  Forget the beaches, give me the food!  I was determined to find the best Spam Musubi on the drive.  After a few disappointments, we stumbled across a little store that had the BEST fruit smoothies and Spam Musubi.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you where it was because I didn’t even think to write down the name.  I was too busy gorging myself on the Spam Musubi and chasing it down with a fruit smoothie.

Spam Musubi

1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
4 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons mirin
1 can lite Spam, sliced into 8 equal pieces
2 cups white rice, cooked
3 sheets of nori, cut into thirds lengthwise
Spam musubi mold

In a small glass bowl, combine the sugar, mirin, and soy sauce. Microwave the marinade for about 45 seconds. Whisk to dissolve sugar completely.

In a shallow square baking dish, lay the slices of the Spam at the bottom and cover completely with the marinade. Set aside to marinate for about 1 hour.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, and lay the slices of Spam to pan fry. After about two to three minutes or until the bottom has caramelized, flip onto the other side to finish cooking. Repeat until all slices of Spam have been cooked. Transfer cooked Spam onto a plate.

While you are cooking the Spam, in a small saucepan, cook to thicken the marinade as a dipping sauce. Once it has thickened, pour into a small bowl. Set aside until ready to serve.

On a clean cutting board, lay down one strip of the nori sheet. Lay the musubi mold on the middle of the nori sheet. Scoop a generous amount of the white rice into the mold. Press down hard on the rice with the handle of the mold. Remove the handle carefully, and gently lift the mold from the rice. Sprinkle with furikake, and lay a slice of the Spam on top. Wrap the nori tightly around the rice, and seal the edge with a little water.

Serve with dipping sauce and devour immediately.

Makes 8 Spam musubis.

Turkey Kielbasa, Potato, and Kale Soup

kale soup, turkey kielbasa soup, turkey kielbasa, kielbasa

I have a few shifts left before I change jobs.  It’s a bittersweet feeling… I’m sad to leave the people that I really enjoy working with, but I’m really excited and nervous about starting my new job.  I didn’t think I was ever going to leave this job.  Ever.  In.  A.  Million.  Years.  If you asked me a year ago where I was going to be with my career in five years, I would have immediately answered with “this job, of course!”

But something suddenly changed within the last six months.  I was feeling unsatisfied and unchallenged by my job.  I was bored.  I need to be stimulated, and my current job just wasn’t doing that for me anymore.  These new feelings about my job was difficult.  I was struggling because I thought that *this* was my dream job, and that it’s such a dynamic environment, so how could I be bored?  I thought it was something that would pass if I just gave it some time, and plus there was nothing out there for me when I did a quick job search.  But the more time I gave it, the more unhappy I was with my job.

Well, low and behold, I started doing some searching and came across a job posting, which I thought I could totally love, or totally hate and regret leaving my job.  I applied, interviewed, and got the job after a two month process.  So here I am, about to finish this job and move on to the next…. wish me luck!

Turkey Kielbasa, Potato, and Kale Soup

1 large yellow onion, cut into small dices
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 fresh bay leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 small-medium sized potatoes, cut into small cubes
14 ounces (1 package) turkey kielbasa, sliced
8 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
6 cups fresh kale, chopped
2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans
Grated parmesan cheese

In a large dutch oven, heat extra virgin olive oil. When oil is hot, saute the onions and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add the bay leaves and sliced turkey kielbasa and saute for two minutes. Pour the chicken broth into the dutch oven and add the diced potatoes, and bring to a boil.

Reduce to medium-high heat. Add the kale, and cook for about 5 minutes or until the kale is tender. Stir in the cannellini beans, and adjust seasoning to your likings with salt and pepper.

Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.

Ecstasy Bars (aka, magic bars on crack or salted caramel magic bars)

It’s 3:00 a.m. and I’m exhausted.  The caffeine is starting to wear off.  Do you ever feel nauseous when you are lacking in the sleep department?  Well, I just reached that point.  One more hour and I will have been awake for 24 hours.  I worked 13 hours today.  Thirteen!  It wasn’t really by choice either.  It was mandatory over time.  You may (or may) not be wondering why I am still up at this ridiculous hour of the morning.

I’m still up because I’m forcing myself to stay awake so that I can sleep soon.  I am working the graveyard shift the next two nights.  And guess what?  I have NEVER worked a graveyard shift before.  So my brilliant plan is to stay up as late as I can so that I can sleep until about 4:00 p.m., have dinner, and head off to work for my 12 hour shift that starts at 7:00 p.m.  I have another brilliant plan to take pseudoephedrine (i.e., the derivative to methamphetamine) and coffee to keep me awake through the wee hours of the night while I work tomorrow and the day after.  In fact, that used to be a favorite cocktail combination of mine while I was in pharmacy school trying to stay up for midterms and finals.  However, do as I say and not as I do, in that I do not advise anyone to take this drug combination.  It can really get your heart racing and blood pressure rising, which can be a no-no especially for those with a pre-existing (or even unknown) heart condition.  Therefore, avoid this.   Actually, just pretend you didn’t even read the last half of this paragraph.  Anyhow, I digress, as usual.

I was so anxious about not being able to stay up tonight that I bought a new movie and a new Nintendo Wii game to keep myself entertained/awake until I can go to sleep.  Well, instead of watching TV or playing video games (which I had every intention of doing), I entertained myself by concocting yummy things in the kitchen.  I’m making my version of magic bars (aka, seven layer bars), except that my magic bars are on crack.  They have been finished with a generous drizzle of my salted caramel sauce.  So they’re not just any magic bars… they’re magic bars on crack.  Actually, they’re even better than that.  They are ecstasy bars.

And as I sit here while blogging this post and listening to the snores of my sleeping dog, my brain is slowly shutting down and my eyes barely open.  I think it may be bedtime soon…

Ecstasy Bars

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup dark chocolate morsels
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1/2 cup salted caramel sauce

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat muffin tin with cooking spray.

Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press into bottoms of muffin tin.  Layer evenly with sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips, followed by the shredded coconut.

Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from muffin tin.  Drizzle with salted caramel sauce.  Store covered at room temperature.

[If you don’t want to go through the hassle of using a mini muffin pan, use a 13×9 inch baking pan.  Line the pan with foil, coat with nonstick spray, and layer as directed above.  Allow to cool, and then simply lift up the foil up and out to remove from baking pan.  You’re left with perfect magic bars.  Cut into squares and devour.]

Makes 36 servings (small, as these are very rich)

Roasted Sweet Potato and Beets Salad with a Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette

We had a small tasting of a similar dish at a backyard wedding we recently attended.  The original was made with red and yellow beets, and butternut squash with a lemony vinaigrette with a hint of truffle oil.  The salad was very tasty, but a little mushy from the butternut squash.   So while I was consuming my large plate of food [It was, in fact, a very large plate of food… my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  But what’s new?], a light bulb came on… roasted sweet potatoes.  It would be the perfect substitution flavor- and texture-wise.  And so what did I do two days after the wedding?  Well, I recreated this dish, of course, and it was perfect.

Inspiration.  It such a lovely thing.

What inspires you in the kitchen?

Roasted Sweet Potato and Beets Salad with a Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette

4 large beets
3 large sweet potatoes, skinned and diced into 1 inch cubes
1 small shallot, finely diced
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon truffle oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chives, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wrap each beet tightly in foil. [I usually like to double wrap mine in foil.] Drizzle the sweet potatoes with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the sweet potatoes in a singe layer on the baking sheet. Place the foil-wrapped beets on the same baking sheet. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until tender, but slightly crispy in the outside. Stir the sweet potatoes once or twice during roasting. [Watch the sweet potatoes closely, because they can go from perfectly roasted to imperfectly burnt.] Roast the beets for about an hour (or once you can poke a knife all the way through).

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the shallots, lemon, olive oil, and truffle oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

Remove the sweet potatoes firstly from oven, followed by the beets when they have cooked through, and allow to cool just enough to be easily handled. Once cooled, peel “skin” off the beets. [They’ll come off easily with just your hands… no need for a paring knife.] Slice beets into 1 inch cubes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beets, sweet potatoes, and vinaigrette. Gently toss to combine all the ingredients. Divide onto small plates, sprinkle with chives, and drizzle with a little truffle oil, and enjoy!

Makes 4 to 6 small salad servings.

Oven-Fried Truffle and Parmesan Potato Chips

Alright, so I have another new favorite obsession.  What’s new, right?  My obsessions don’t seem to last very long.  Out with the old, in with the new!  These truffle and parmesan potato chips are incredibly addicting.  And the smell of the truffle oil!  OMG, it’s intoxicating!  Our house was filled with the fragrant aroma of truffles!  These potato chips are hard to resist, so make a large batch!  Nosh on these bad boys by themselves, with a beer, alongside a sandwich or burger, or whatever you fancy.  Me?  Well, I like mine with a cold bottle of beer, but will eat them all sorts of ways.  I’m not picky :)

What’s your favorite way of devouring potato chips?

Oven-Fried Truffle and Parmesan Potato Chips (adapted slightly from The Family Kitchen)

3 medium to large baking potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white truffle oil
3-4 pinches of sea salt
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Using an 18×13 jelly roll pan, brush on two tablespoons of olive oil until fully coated. Place pan in the oven and heat for 10 minutes.

While the pan is heating in the oven, place the potato slices into a large mixing bowl, and toss with truffle oil and salt. Set aside.

Carefully line the potato slices on the hot baking sheet. Place pan into the hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes. Flip the potato chips with a pair of tongs and bake them for another 5 minutes. The chips will darken a little as they bake, but just don’t let them burn. If the potato chips still aren’t crispy, flip those potato chips over and bake for another few minutes. [Do not walk away from these chips, as they can easily go from almost crispy, to burnt.]

Remove the pan from the oven, and transfer the chips to a payer of paper towels. Sprinkle with grated parmesan, and allow them to cool. The excess oil will be absorbed by the towels. The potato chips will also crisp up slightly as they cool.  Once cooled, store in an air tight container for a few days.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,646 other followers