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Vanilla Salt

This was a bad week. Actually, the past two weeks have been bad, which is why last week, for the first time in a very long time, there was not a new post in this little corner of the internet. It’s nothing major, just a lot of little stresses at work and at home that built up and, when combined with the cold, my new desire to be a runner (a dubious plan), and the short hours I just… needed to check out. I did a lot of snuggling with Dan, we exchanged a few early Christmas presents, and I began planning 2011. Today we had absolutely nothing to do so we stayed in bed forever, baked cookies and made apple butter, took ourselves out for lunch, and had a dance party in the kitchen. It was much needed. And, as always, I am very lucky to have such a wonderful husband.

My big present to Dan this year was the Playstation Move. We’ve only had it a week and so far we both love it!*

This week’s recipe is something that came just in time for our holiday baking- vanilla salt. First off, I have a confession to make. I am a salt addict. I buy either kosher or sea salt so it comes in big crystals and in addition to adding it to flavor a dish, I love to sprinkle it on just about everything for an extra punch. Lately my breakfast of choice has been a toasted bagel or piece of toast with herb butter and a dash of salt. So simple, yet nothing seems to be as delicious lately as that burst of salt.

Today’s salt shout out goes to vanilla salt. A mixture of pure vanilla and kosher salt, this has already proved delicious on top of sugar cookies and salmon alike. I see a future for this on top of caramels, steaks, and (of course) toast. You’ll love it, as will anyone you decide to share it with this holiday season.

For Christmas this year Dan gave me a (beautiful) new bike(!) equipped with basket and bell! All it needs are fenders and I’ll be cruising in style. And a paint job. It has crackle paint on it.

Outside my love for salt (and other things that will ultimately kill me) I have some good news and some bad news. Or, depending on what day of the week it is, two exciting pieces of news. On the one hand, B&S was named one of the “Top Southern Style American Cuisine Blogs,” something that we found to be incredibly flattering. We’ve been getting a lot of incredible press lately and I can’t say thank you more sincerely. It means the world to me, especially on the bad days. The other hand, however, is the news that my iVillage column, From Arugula to Ziti, that has been published weekly in their Food News section since November of last year, has been cancelled. Something about budget cuts and the recession (and maybe the big sale to Comcast). I have mixed emotions about it. I’ve enjoyed writing it and it has been a great outlet for writing about the things that don’t fit on B&S. However, with all the little projects we’ve got going on it had begun to take its toll and I was a little relieved when I got the news. Plus, this will just allow a window to open for other, more exciting, activities.

*Playstation has no idea who I am, they definitely neither sponsored this post nor gave me a free Playstation Move. But Dan and I are killing it in virtual bocce.

Vanilla Salt

1/4 cup kosher or sea salt

1 vanilla bean

Scrape out the insides of one vanilla bean. Mix with salt. Store in an airtight container. Sprinkle on everything to add deliciousness.

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Peppermint Fudge

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  That is, that I like the actual day of Thanksgiving more than any other holiday.  Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, my birthday.  Thanksgiving wins.  It wins because its only goal is food.  The only point is to come together with people you love and enjoy delicious food.  That being said, there are few times of year I love more than the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year.

I love singing Christmas carols.  I love decorating my house.  I love baking, I love shopping for the people I love.  I love giving presents, even if waiting to give someone something special kills me.  I love going to church on Christmas eve and watching my dad try to stifle giggles everytime the preacher references the sweet baby Jesus.

I love that when we celebrate with my grandfather’s family my great Aunt Beth puts a flashing Christmas light in her belly button.  I love that growing up, my Uncle Ron used to make us wait on the steps Christmas morning for what seemed like hours while he got showered and shaved and dressed.  I love that on Christmas day, after the presents and before the family dinner, my sisters and I lay around and eat.  I love that my husband can barely contain himself after buying something for me, but swears up and down that he won’t tell me what it is until Christmas.  I love this season.  And to kick it off this weekend I listened to Christmas music, I watched Love Actually, I decorated our tiny apartment, and I made fudge.  Peppermint fudge with an chocolate creme cookie base and candy cane sprinkles.

Peppermint Fudge

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 1/2 cups sugar

3 tbsp butter

4-6 oz. chocolate

1 tsp peppermint extract

10 chocolate creme cookies

2-3 candy canes

In a heavy pan, combine milk, cream, chocolate, sugar, and half of the butter.  Cook over medium heat until everything has melted.  Bring to a boil.  Insert a candy thermometer and allow to boil, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 240.  Cut the heat.  Add the remaining butter and let sit for 10-12 minutes.

While your fudge is cooling, line a small cake pan with wax paper.  Crumble cookies and spread over the bottom of the pan.

Now comes the hard part.  With a spoon, beat the fudge for at least 7 minutes.  This is going to make your arm feel like it will fall off, but keep beating to incorporate air into the fudge.

After 7 minutes (good job!) pour the fudge over the cookies, spreading evenly.  Let sit overnight to cool.  The next day, use a cookie cutter (or just cut squares) to cut out pieces.  Crush candy canes and sprinkle on top.

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Apple Pie Filling, Preserved

One incredible side effect of attending art school is that holiday presents are built in to the whole experience.  What should I give mom this year inevitably ends with “well, I made this awesome (fill in the blank depending on my course load) that she’d totally love.”  And while I have no idea whether or not my family appreciated getting Elena Rosemond originals every year for Christmas, they always pretended like they did.  After college the handmade trend continued, though I’d like to think I’ve improved it.  Moving on from my priceless works of art, we’ve started gifting handmade and homemade bundles full of food.

While I, personally, think that this is our best holiday bundle yet I won’t spoil the fun for our families about what will be in them- except for this apple pie filling.  Yesterday I peeled, sliced, and processed 15 pounds of apples, the end result being enough apple pie filling for a lot of pies.  Canned in a ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg solution, these are ready to pop open anytime you want a classic apple pie.  Just add crust.  Or, if you’re my brothers, just eat out of the jar with a fork.  That’ll work too, Ryan. The same probably goes for my 20 year old sister Genevieve.

The recipe that I’m giving is for 12 1-quart jars.  A quart jar of apple pie filling is the perfect amount to fill a shallow pie dish, or for four to six cup pies.  Two of these will perfectly fill a deep pie dish.  Also, because of the nature of anything homemade, there is a good chance not every jar will be equal.  I’ll be gifting mine with a note that instructs the recipients to add flour if the canning liquid is a little thin, or to add water if the canning liquid is too thick.  After they’ve filled a pie crust bottom with the filling, it can be topped in a traditional or lattice top and baked at 425 for 15 minutes and then at 325 for 50 minutes.

Apple Pie Filling {Preserved}

12-14 pounds apples (gala, honeycrisp)

6-7 quarts (20-25 cups) water

2 cups corn starch

2 tbsp cinnamon

3 tbsp ginger

1 tbsp nutmeg

5 cups sugar

12 1-quart jars

Canning equipment

5 lemons

Begin by peeling your apples.

Next, sterilize your jars and lids by boiling them for at least ten minutes.  As they are sterilizing, slice your apples into thin slices.

Fill each jar with apples, leaving about one inch of room at the top.

Heat the water you are planning to use for canning.  Your pot needs to be deep enough that the cans are completely covered in water.  Bring this water to a boil.

Next, combine water, sugar, spices, and corn starch in a large pot.  Add the corn starch very slowly, stirring it in completely before adding more.  This will help prevent clumps.  Bring to a boil.  Cut the heat and add the juice from the lemons.  Ladle liquid into each jar, leaving about 1/2″ at the top.  Wipe the rim of the jar and top with a sterilized lid.  Screw on the band and continue until all your jars are filled.

When your jars are filled place them in the hot water bath.  Boil them for 30 minutes.  Then remove them and, carefully, tighten the lid.  As they cool, the jars will make a ping sound which is how you’ll know they’ve sealed.  Let them cool and then decorate them however you’d like for the perfect gift!

**As with any preservation process, there are risks.  If you notice anything abnormal, discard the filling immediately.  Botulism is no fun.**

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