Thursday, January 5, 2012

DIY Vanilla Extract

Until recently, I never realized that vanilla extract was simply vodka (or other high proof alcohol) and vanilla beans. D'oh! Once I saw the light, I decided I MUST make my own. I go through vanilla like crazy and the good stuff is just so expensive to buy.

I went out to Amazon and bought some really great premium vanilla beans. Yes, I got a half pound. I couldn't resist the fact that the more you bought, they cheaper they were. And really, you can never have too much vanilla! Then I went and bought some cute little bottles. Finally, I purchased some vodka. Any vodka will do, so I hear. I used a variety from a local distillery. You can actually make vanilla with pretty much any high proof alcohol. I've heard of people using bourbon, rum, vodka, etc.

Anyway, after I had gathered all of the necessary supplies, I set up a little assembly line to package my vanilla extract. First I split each bean down the center, cut them in half (so they'd fit in the bottles) and shoved them into the bottles. Then, using a small funnel, I filled each bottle with vodka. And last but not least, I screwed on the cap. It took all of about 5 minutes to complete! The standard ratio of vanilla bean to vodka seems to be about 3 beans per cup of vodka. Since my bottles were 4 ounces, I used 1.5 vanilla beans for each.

A wonderful blogger made some vanilla extract recently and was kind enough to share the printable for the labels she used. They are super cute and fit my bottles perfectly. I didn't have any sticky label paper at home, but my husband had some beer bottling labels that I used instead. Worked perfectly!

DIY Vanilla Extract
3 Vanilla Beans, split down the center
1 Cup Vodka (or other alcohol)

There really isn't much of a recipe to note here. It ultimately depends on the quantity you want to make. As long as you follow the ratio above, you'll be good. You could probably get away with using more vanilla for a greater concentration. Once bottled, they need to be left alone to "extract" for at least 6-8 weeks before they're ready to use.
I ended up making 8 of the 4 ounce bottles to give away as gifts. That resulted in 12 vanilla beans and 32 ounces of vodka. A liter bottle (~ 33oz) would work perfectly, if you can find that. The liquor store I went to only had 750 ml (~ 25oz) and 1.75 L (~ 60oz) bottles, so I went with the larger one. I assure you, the excess went to a good cause :)

These little guys got handed out as Christmas gifts and everybody loved them! Homemade is a simple, yet impressive DIY ingredient! Give it a try!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

DIY Taco Seasoning

Making your own ingredients is not only a great way to save money, it also allows you to tailor the ingredient to your tastes! One of the most common ingredients we make ourselves is Taco Seasoning. You can buy the little packets at the grocery store for $1 or so, depending on brand. However, with those prepackaged seasonings, you are typically getting far more sodium and other preservatives than necessary. If you have a well-stocked cabinet, you likely have all the spices to make your own seasoning on hand. This is the recipe I typically use for taco seasoning and it makes enough for around one pound of ground beef, or whatever meat you choose. Like I said before, customization is one of the key benefits to making your own ingredients. What I've listed below is the proportions and spices that I prefer, but feel free to make changes to fit your likes!

1 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 ½ Tsp Cumin
1 Tsp Sea Salt
1 Tsp Black Pepper
1/2 Tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 Tsp Paprika
1/4 Tsp Crushed Red Pepper
1/4 Tsp Onion Powder
1/4 Tsp Oregano
1/2 Cup water

All you do is toss all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. I toss the seasoning over the cooked beef and add 1/2 cup of water, then let it simmer until the liquid reduces a bit. Then it's ready to go! Super easy and delicious!