Archive for September, 2010

Scratch Made: Vanilla Sugar


Out of the all the containers on my kitchen counter, this one is my favorite.

I first received this jar of vanilla sugar from my friend, Christie, and I’ve been keeping it going ever since.


This may be the easiest “recipe” I’ve posted.

To make vanilla sugar, you need two things:

1. A whole vanilla bean

2. Sugar


That’s it!

No cooking, boiling, roasting…nothing.

Fill a container (with a lid) halfway with regular, white sugar. Add in an entire vanilla bean and top with more sugar.


Let this sit in the closed container for a few days so the oils and vanilla essence can get into the sugar.

And you’re done!


My favorite ways to use it:

– As regular sugar in baking (if I use this in baking, I leave out the vanilla extract).

– In smoothies.

– In homemade lattes.

– Sprinkled on fruit.


The best part is that you can just keep it going. Add more sugar when you’re running low. If you’ve had it for a while, you can replace the vanilla bean if you want.

Having vanilla sugar in the kitchen is fun. My sisters add it to their coffee when they visit, Nick loves it on fruit, and I like using it when I’m baking. It’s such an easy ingredient to have on hand, but it seems so special.

Vanilla sugar would make a great homemade gift for Christmas – it’s something that most people don’t have in their kitchens, but everyone could use.


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Great Gratin

I’ve been all about the comfort food today.

Thankfully, the rain held off long enough for Nick and I to get in a 4 mile run when he got home from work, but otherwise, it’s been extremely gloomy today!

We definitely need the rain, and I’m happy it’s here – plus, it’s given me a good reason to indulge in comforting meals.

I’m not sure why, but I had never made a potato gratin before tonight!

It’s a good thing I’m trying all these recipes from Food & Wine 🙂 It gave me a good reason to finally try it.


Ham, Potato, Spinach, and Cheddar Gratin

Inspired by Food & Wine’s Canadian Bacon, Potato, and Swiss Chard Gratin

  • 4-5 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1.5 lbs yukon gold potatoes and sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
  • 3.5 oz. sharp cheddar, grated
  • 1 cup diced lean ham
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Peel and sliced potatoes and grate cheese.
  3. In 8×8 or oval baking dish, layer 1/3 of your potatoes and sprinkle with some salt and pepper.
  4. Layer 1/2 of ham on potatoes.
  5. Put all of spinach on ham.
  6. Layer another 1/3 of potatoes.
  7. Sprinkle on 1/2 of cheese with salt and pepper.
  8. Do one more layer of potatoes, salt and pepper.
  9. Layer the remaining cheese on top.
  10. Pour broth over dish.
  11. Cover baking dish and cook 15 minutes, covered.
  12. Uncover dish and bake another 20-30 minutes until potatoes are tender and cheese is browned and bubbly.
  13. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

I actually had swiss chard in the fridge, but I have another dish I want to make with it this week so I used the rest of my spinach instead. It saved me a step in the recipe and helped me clear out a little produce.


The sweet potatoes were a last minute addition. I weighed out my yukon golds and was a little short, so I subbed in one sweet potato and I loved it!


The little bit of sweetness from the sweet potato went so well with the creamy yukon golds and the sharp cheddar and salty bites of ham.

A perfect meal for a drizzly, rainy evening at home.


FOOD & WINE is giving away a year-long subscription to a lucky reader from BranAppetit.  Click here to enter and read official rules here.

This post is part of a series featuring recipes from the FOOD & WINE archive.  As a FOOD & WINE Blogger Correspondent, I was chosen to do four recipes a week from FOOD & WINE.  I received a subscription to FOOD & WINE for my participation.


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Cheesy Toast

The gloomy gray weather today had me wanting one thing and one thing only for lunch.

Tomato soup.

Specifically, Campbell’s Tomato Soup.


One of my favorite comfort meals growing up was regular old Campbell’s Tomato soup, along with either a grilled cheese or cheesy toast.

And since I have a bunch of great produce in the fridge, I knew it would be a soup + salad + cheesy toast kind of day.

Our weird summer weather is catching up with our garden – our tomato plants are still producing!


And I’m definitely not complaining. We don’t have enough to put away for the winter, but I was so excited for a salad today and one more taste of perfectly vine-ripened tomatoes.


  • romaine
  • carrots
  • scallions
  • tomato
  • raspberries (most likely, the last I’ll have until next year)
  • avocado
  • homemade dressing: olive oil, dijon, balsamic, salt, pepper

I always put my salad toppings on top, but then I mix everything together so I can have all the avocado + fruit bites for last 🙂


As for the tomato soup, I just followed the directions. 1 can soup and 1 can water. Heat. And I added just a splash of milk. Mine tasted good, but my mom’s always tastes better! Not sure why that is…

Cheese toast is something I used to eat all the time growing up. I didn’t get it perfect today, but my process was something like this:

– Heat toast to melt cheese (on low)

– Turn heat on high to get cheese to bubble and brown/get a tiny bit burnt on the edges.

– Save those burnt edges for the last bites 😉


Do you have any super simple comfort food memories?

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The Coffee Process

IMG_0706 Today is Monday.

Today is rainy, gray, and gloomy with a 100% chance of rain for the rest of the day.

Today is back to work after a weekend out of town with family and a night full of moving furniture before we could get into bed.

And today, I can’t wait for my coffee.

I said I’d do a photo tutorial of how we make our coffee in the syphon – here it is!


The syphon is two pieces: the bottom carafe and the top, which has the vacuum piece you can see in the carafe here.

Fill the syphon and set it over medium/high heat while you get your beans ready.


Whether you’re using whole beans that you grind yourself or preground coffee, Nick has found the perfect ratio for us: 7 grams of coffee for each “cup” of coffee. So for our 8-cup syphon, we use 52 grams of coffee.


As the water heats, it will travel into the top of the syphon. Once all the water has moved to the top (and you’ll hear it start to bubble and boil), turn the heat to low and stir in your coffee.


As soon as you stir in your coffee and make sure the heat is on low, start your timer.


Again – Nick is the expert here – but 2 minutes and 32 seconds seems to be the best time to let it brew. No more, no less.

So set the timer and let the coffee work.

Once the timer goes off, turn off the heat and move the syphon off the heat.


This is where the fun begins!

Once the heat is no longer under the syphon, the vacuum piece starts its work and pulls the brewed coffee back into the carafe, leaving the ground in the top of the syphon.


And it’s just fun to watch – like a science experiment in your kitchen, every morning!


The last part is the most fun to watch.


It’s hard to see in this picture, but the vacuum action makes the coffee bubble up right at the end as it pulls the last of it from the top.

When all the coffee is back into the carafe piece, you just take the top of the syphon off, dump the grounds/wash it out, and enjoy!

After all that fun, you have a great cup of coffee.


We’re not professionals and we don’t know everything there is to know about coffee, but this coffee syphon makes some of the best coffee we’ve ever had.

We also have a 12-cup regular coffee pot and 2 different French Presses, but we haven’t used anything else since we got this syphon last December.

Having freshly roasted and ground beans also makes a huge difference in your coffee. Our Honduran coffee is the one exception – those beans are already ground, but it seems to be better than other preground coffee we’ve had in the past.

We usually try to buy locally roasted coffee from a few coffeeshops around town or some of our favorites from Trader Joe’s when we go to my parent’s house (their Kona and Papua New Guinea Peaberry are both delicious).

But when we can’t have those or when we run out, the best coffee we’ve found in regular grocery stores is the Eight O’Clock, and specifically, their 100% Colombian and French Roast. We usually find this at Kroger and it’s $3-5 per bag.


Are you a coffee drinker? What’s your favorite coffee brand/bean/flavor?

If your hot drink of choice is tea, what’s in your mug this morning?

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F&W Meets BFD

It’s always a good Friday when it ends with Breakfast For Dinner.


Nick and I have a busy weekend again (seems to be the norm, lately) and I really didn’t have anything planned for dinner tonight. We had no leftovers and there wasn’t much to work with in the fridge.

But you can always find stuff to make breakfast, right?


I made some biscuits and some bacon gravy to have along with our cinnamon sauteed apples and pears.


While our dinner was lacking in veggies, the fruit more than made up for it! The little bit of brown sugar was so delicious on the diced apples and pears.


My biscuits turned out pretty good, too 😉

Not my best batch, but they were good considering I don’t use recipes anymore!

Now that I’m full of biscuits and gravy, I’m going to settle in for the night with Nick and Maggie and enjoy the calm before the storm. Lots of time on the road coming up this weekend!

FOOD & WINE is giving away a year-long subscription to a lucky reader from BranAppetit.  Click here to enter and read official rules here.

This post is part of a series featuring recipes from the FOOD & WINE archive.  As a FOOD & WINE Blogger Correspondent, I was chosen to do four recipes a week from FOOD & WINE.  I received a subscription to FOOD & WINE for my participation.

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Behind the Blog: Sarah


Time for another Behind the Blog post, and I’m happy to welcome Sarah! I’ve been loving her blog lately and she just seems like such a fun person.


1. What’s your name and blog address?

Sarah @ The Smart Kitchen (http://thesmartkitchenblog.com)


2. How long have you been blogging?

I think we are coming up on my 6 month anniversary! (Clearly not the "gold" or "diamond" one…maybe we’ll call it a "cardstock" anniversary, since I think paper is taken.)


3. What do you love / hate about blogging?

I love the creative outlet it gave me that I didn’t even knew I needed. I love the relationships I have formed because of blogging, and those I have renewed and strengthened "behind the blog." It’s fun to have a platform to showcase and celebrate food (and people! and places!) that you love. 🙂

I don’t think I hate anything about it, actually. Some days it is more difficult to feel "witty" and interesting, but I believe that if there ever comes a day when I find myself hating it, I will stop. I haven’t even really wanted to take a "blog break" yet!


4. What’s your favorite color?

Green! (although I am branching out into other colors slowly….)


5. Favorite movie?

Hook, Shag, She’s The Man [I’m not super intellectual in my movie choices….]


6. Favorite book?

I always say The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwartz-Bart, because that sounds much more intellectual, but in reality it would probably be a toss-up between Harry Potter [especially The Goblet of Fire] and any of the chick-lit novels I unabashedly adore. [I also love food writing. Especially Ruth Reichl.]


7. Favorite food?

Isn’t that like asking a mom to pick her favorite child? [Although we all know there are favorites. My sister is my dad’s favorite child, for example. Your teachers’ were also lying when they said they didn’t have favorite students. We do.]

Based on my recent eating habits, I’d probably have to go with The Big Three: Hummus, Yogurt, and Oatmeal, but I also love pimiento cheese and my dad’s grilled pizza. If I see the words "hearts of palm" or "lychee" I must eat it. I am a cereal fiend. And frozen yogurt. Oh how I love frozen yogurt.

[I also adore preety much every vegetable and fruit in existence…Perhaps you could consult my Top 25 Most Eaten?]


8. Chocolate or vanilla?

Vanilla (with chocolatey mix-ins, like Oreos, brownies, or chocolate chips)


9. Favorite TV show NOW and when you were growing up?

Now? Glee, How I Met Your Mother, Mad Men, Top Chef…when growing up? I lived for TGIF (Full House, Family Matters, Step by Step, Boy Meets World), and SNICK (Are You Afraid of the Dark?)…as well as Saved By The Bell on Saturday mornings.


10. Do you like playing sports? Watching sports?

I am often quoted as saying "I don’t play team sports." I wanted to be a field hockey player in middle and high school, but never made the team. Although I had a brief obsession with World Cup soccer this summer (Viva Espana!), and I do enjoy the occasional tennis match…I’m really into sports for the tailgating food potential.


11. Are you a coffee or tea person? Or neither?

Coffee! Oh my goll, do I love me some coffee.


12. Do you have tattoos or piercings?

Just the normal ear piercing undergone at the local mall upon turning 13.


13. Do you have any special talents?

Can’t say that I do. I’m not double-jointed and I do not perform any Gob Bluth*-like illusions.

*Bonus points to you if you got that allusion.


14. If you could go anywhere in the world TOMORROW, where would you go?

Costa Rica or Greece….the first is my favorite place I’ve ever been, and the second is the place I most want to go


15. Last thing you ate?

A delicious CFY (cereal, fruit, and yogurt) mess with strawberries and green and black grapes on top.


16. When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

First, a teacher. Then, a film director. Then, a teacher again. Now, a Broadway actress.*

*Just kidding. Sort of.


17. What was your favorite subject in school?

As a student, English (or, strangely, Physics).

As a teacher, Math and Science.


18. What games did you play when you were younger?

I played a lot of my brother’s computer games actually…I loved The Sims and Lemmings, as well as this one which I think was called Quest for Glory. Getting into board games was a later development in my life, where now my family loves to play Apples to Apples and some of my favorite nights with friends have involved either Cranium or Catchphrase.


19. Favorite restaurant?

Impossible to say…my new favorite is Foodheads here in Austin, which is a menu-on-the-blackboard, chairs-and-tables-are-salvaged-and-mismatched type sandwich shop.


20. Favorite store?

Trader Joe’s!!!! [Oh how I miss him here in Texas.]


21. Favorite animal?

I’m not actually sure….puppies? Who doesn’t love a puppy?


22. Favorite thing to cook/make?

Anything that will be a gift or served to someone else…especially if it is their birthday cake!


23. Most embarrassing guilty pleasure?

Anything featuring Zac Efron. Oh, and I love Hanson. [But I’m actually not embarrassed by it. Seriously, their newer music is GOOD.]


24. Do you have any nicknames?

I get a lot of inadvertent ones from my students: Ms. Pepper, Ms. Pemberson, Ms. Pemberton, Ms. Peppermint.

My friends used to (and some still do) call me Pembs.


25. List one thing the “blog world” doesn’t know about you but should!

I don’t like nut butter in my oatmeal. (Gasp! Shock! Outrage!)


Thanks, Brandi, for letting me share a little of me with your portion of the blogger world!  :)


Thanks Sarah!

If you’re interested in being featured on Behind the Blog, send an email to branappetit [at] gmail with your answers to these questions!

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All week, I’ve been sticking with my Trader Joe’s roasted flaxseed peanut butter on my pumpkin oatmeal, but I’ve totally been missing out!


Welcome back, White Chocolate Wonderful 🙂


My kryptonite.

For melting, you just can’t beat this white chocolate pb – it’s super creamy and so easy to spread. I bet it would be great for baking!

After missing my pumpkin for breakfast yesterday, I knew Friday’s breakfast needed to be full of it.


  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1 cup water
  • pinch salt
  • LOTS of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin
  • 1/2 banana, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp White Chocolate Wonderful
  • 1/2 Tbsp dark chocolate chips







Time for work + coffee!


What are your plans for this weekend?

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