Use your bean

I get excited about all kinds of things…English muffins just happen to be one of them.

So I was making an English muffin for this morning.  I was really looking forward to it (even more than I usually look forward to any and all food).

The reason I was so eager to get at an ordinary piece of toasted carb is because of which spread I was planning to use.

I’ll admit it right here—I have a problem.

It’s an irresistible need to possess copious varieties of jams, jellies and preserves.  If it’s shiny, sweet, and in a jar, I’m in.  I pick them up wherever I go, be it grocery store, garden center, or even somewhere unexpected like TJ Maxx.

There are 18 different jars in my fridge right now.  And that’s not counting the various honies, golden syrup, and Goober Grape residing in cabinets.

jam shelves

This is most of them, but I have more jars than I have shelves.

About a month ago I was in Home Goods, at Brier Creek.  I love them for their uncommon pasta shapes and jellies.  That day I picked up short multi-colored ridged lasagna.  And, I bought a jar of pineapple jam.

I’ve never thought of preserving the fruit.  I love it fresh, and not much beats a piña colada made with pineapple juice, Coco Lopez, rum, and vanilla ice cream.  Happily, it turned out to taste just like the fruit, and really good on the whole-grain toast and English muffins that I prefer.

As good as it is, that didn’t stop me from what I did to it a few days ago.  I mixed in a heaping tablespoon of vanilla paste.  I closed it up and put it back in the chill chest for a bit so the flavors could mingle.

So that’s why I was so looking forward to breakfast today.

4 forms

While my bread was in the toaster I got to thinking about the four fantastic forms of vanilla: beans, extract, paste and powder.  I always try to have some of each in my kitchen, and they are awesome for jacking up the flavor of all kinds of things.

Vanilla beans: Scrape out the beans with a paring knife and use like you would extract (one bean=one teaspoon).  But when used in light colored foods the flecks of beans enhance the visual which in turn enhances the whole experience.  I love putting them in flavored butter, pudding, and homemade marshmallows.

Don’t toss those empty pods, either, throw them in your sugar canister for vanilla sugar, or add 4 pods to a pint of rum or vodka for homemade extract.

Extract: The old baking standby is also terrific added to unexpected dishes.  Try it in barbecue sauce, salad dressing and marinades.  Use it to make vanilla coke and to give French toast and pancake batter extra zip.

But please, for the love of all that’s holy and healthy, only use pure vanilla.  Although it’s no longer produced by milking the anal glands of beavers (yipes), it’s still made with eucalyptus oil, to which many people are allergic, pine tar, and the wood pulp left after making paper.  Mmmm…pulpy goodness.

Paste: Terrific for adding to prepared foods, like honey and syrups.  Paste also makes lemonade and iced tea into something really special.  Whisk a teaspoon of it and a tablespoon of brown sugar into 1 cup of sour cream for fruit salad dressing or cheesecake topping.  Paste works really well as a mix-in for instant hot cereals.

Powder: When baking, I always shake some into my dry ingredients.  It supports and enhances the extract or beans that I add to the wet ingredients.  For the best cinnamon toast you’ve ever had mix ¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon vanilla powder, 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, and a pinch of salt.  Try adding vanilla powder to coffee or sprinkling it on halved stone fruit before grilling.

I’ve also cooked down apple jelly with vanilla beans.  The apple flavor fades, and I’m left with an intense vanilla jam to add to my vast spread collection.

And I know that they say admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, but I have absolutely no plans to address my affliction (although I have overheard whispered conversations between Petey and The Kid using phrases such as jelly intervention, and jam rehab).

Yeah, yeah, pass me the biscuits; I just got some sassafras jelly.


Here is my newest baby.  It tastes kind of like root beer jam.

Thanks for your time.

Jam session

Although some people who know me (Hello Petey and The Kid) may call it an affliction, I just happen to appreciate jam and jelly.

Right now in my fridge there are 13 jars of various fruit preserves, including the Stonewall Kitchen caramel apple butter I picked up yesterday.

Accueil Caramel Apple Butter

That’s not counting Goober Grape and the many, many bottles in the honey/syrup subsection.  Give me some toast, a biscuit, or waffle, tell me your mood, and I’ve got a topping for ya.

Roll over image to magnify

My true life-long love affair. Petey Who?

Even though I pick up new sugary, jewel-colored jars wherever I go, there are a couple of types that I would never consider buying because I always make them from scratch: onion marmalade and garlic jam.

this is approx since i don t really measure 2 med large red onions ...

The onion marmalade derived from a newspaper article I read many years ago.  And the garlic goop is the byproduct of making garlic oil, which I always try to have on hand.

Either can be used by themselves, like a schmear under some melted cheese on a sandwich or a burger or to dress up some crostini.  You can also use it as an ingredient; I stir a heaping tablespoon of onions into the sauce for my smothered pork chops, and the best red salsa I’ve ever had includes garlic jam.

Neither is hard or expensive to create.  They only cost time and the willingness for you and your home to be heavily allium-scented for a day or so.

Onion Marmalade

5 pound yellow onions

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Peel onions and cut in half.  Slice into ¼ inch thick half-moons.

Place largest, heaviest pot you own on a burner and turn to medium-low.  Put in all ingredients, and toss to coat.  Cover and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until most of the liquid has been released from onions.

Uncover and cook on low, stirring frequently until the onions have cooked down and are deeply amber, about 3-4 hours.  Don’t rush or they will burn and stick.  Taste for seasoning. Makes 2-3 cups.

This’ll last about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.  I usually keep about a third in the fridge to use right away and label and freeze the rest.  It will give anything you use it in a serious depth of flavor—but be careful, the taste is intense; it’s easy to overdo.

The garlic is even easier.

Garlic Oil and Jam

4 heads garlic, separated and peeled, with tough, dry ends cut off

2 cups olive oil

3 cups vegetable oil—I use grapeseed

Salt & pepper to taste

½ teaspoon dried thyme

Juice of 1 lemon

Place garlic in heavy saucepan and pour in oils.  Turn to medium-low and cook slowly until garlic is light golden-brown, about 45-60 minutes.  Turn off burner and let oil and garlic cool.

Remove cloves to bowl of food processor and pour oil into clean receptacle and refrigerate for up to 3 months.

Process cloves with salt, pepper, and thyme until mostly smooth.  Pour in lemon juice and process until it is very smooth and looks like humus.  Taste for seasoning and refrigerate for 2-3 weeks in airtight container.  Makes about 1 cup.

With these in your fridge, you can spike a quick weeknight meal, and that dinner will take on a slow-cooked, fussed-over taste.

Or, like The Kid, you can eat the garlic jam from a spoon when you think nobody’s looking.

katey's new hat

The Kid, in disguise, after eating all of the garlic marmalade.

Thanks for your time.