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A Vanilla Bean Hedge Fund

Back in 2013, I bought half a pound of Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans for $34.95, to make a pure vanilla extract for Christmas gifts,

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In 2016, because I didn’t want to run short as by then my homemade vanilla extract had become so popular with friends and family, I made a second purchase of the same quantity of vanilla beans from the same company. The price had suddenly become $66.95. It was shocking, but considering how many gifts I knew I could make from a half pound—plus never having to worry about running out for my own baking needs—I took a deep breath and carried on.

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One year later, I’m grateful I made that purchase. Today, the price of one-half-pound of Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans from the same company has skyrocketed to $276 (that’s $552 per lb.). The reason? A tragic vanilla bean shortage with global outreach. That story is HERE.

A Dozen Ways to Make Dump Chicken

It’s called Dump Chicken and it’s genius. Here’s why: You dump chicken pieces and your choice of sauce ingredients into a 1-gallon freezer bag, seal it and stick it in the freezer. When you’re ready to eat it, thaw overnight in the refrigerator, dump it into a pan (or slow cooker) and bake it. That’s it!

The following recipes can be made with any four to eight pieces of chicken; bone-in or boneless, skin-on or skinless, even whole. Experiment to see what you prefer. Simply mix the sauce ingredients and toss that into the bag along with the chicken; seal and freeze.

Note: If you are adding a lot more or a lot less chicken, you may need to adjust the recipes accordingly.

To cook the chicken, thaw the bag overnight in the refrigerator. Pour the contents of the bag into a 9 x 12-inch pan and bake at 350 F until internal temperature reaches 165F. Or prepare these meals in a slow cooker on low for 4-6 hours. In the oven, chicken breasts take about 25 to 45 minutes depending on their thickness. Dark meat pieces may take a bit longer.

Basic BBQ Chicken

  • chicken
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons dry onion soup mix

Caribbean Chicken

  • chicken
  • 1 (8-ounce) can pineapple chunks with juice
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Quick and Easy Stir-Fry

CORRECTION: An important ingredient was mistakenly omitted from the recipe for Perfect Chinese Stir-Fry Sauce in a recent post, It’s All About the Sauce! This has been corrected to include 1/4 cup corn starch. Huge apologies and regrets if yours didn’t turn out exactly, well … perfect. Please try again!

I can’t think of a more perfect food than stir-fry. It makes good use of leftovers; it’s healthy and when prepared well, it’s fantastic!

Pam Anderson, author of CookSmart (Houghton Mifflin, $28 $6) says the reason most home stir-fry comes out a soggy mess: our home stovetops don’t get as hot as restaurant woks. Cooking everything in small batches and then removing the batches from the skillet or wok until the end is Anderson’s secret for making great stir-fry at home.

You can make stir-fry, start to finish in less than 30 minutes. The secret is to get all of your ingredients ready and within easy reach before you start, and your skillet as hot as possible.

It’s All About the Sauce

Some of my earliest childhood memories center around Asian food. But not just any Asian food. I’m talking about the food at The Golden Dragon Restaurant in Boise Ida., city of my birth and the home of noodles and spare ribs swimming in the most beautiful and delicious brown sauce.

To my 5-year-old sense of fine cuisine, that dish was to die for. My favorite thing in the whole, wide world!

For me, it was all about the sauce. Brown sauce. Yummy, amazing make-my-mouth-water kind of sauce. I poured it on my noodles; would eat it with a spoon like soup. I can remember exactly what it tasted like, too. It was definitely brown, kinda’ sweet but a little tangy and shiny—not clear like broth but not dense like gravy, either.  And smooth. No chunks or chewy bits. No onions, peppers or pineapple pieces. None of that. Just glorious, shimmery, fabulous Chinese sauce over tiny beef spare ribs and sticky white rice on the side. I would all but lick the plate clean. Wait, maybe I did that.

We moved when I was 10. It never dawned on me that might be the last time in my life I would experience that level of Chinese food. But it was. That is, until just a few months ago when I had a true Eureka! moment. I discovered Nagi, the food blogger at RecipeTinEats.com.

Seriously, for decades I have been on a mission to learn how to prepare really great Asian food—Japanese, Chinese, Thai—all of those cuisines, and sadly without much success. I could never get the sauce right. That’s because I’ve depended on bottled stuff in the Asian aisle of the grocery store. Over and again I would be so disappointed. I wanted to figure out how to make the kind of cuisine I loved as a child, myself—at home. 

Great Recipes Know No Season

My mother-in-law, Gwen Hunt, was a very organized woman. She had file folders for everything you can imagine including one containing lists of her most valued possessions along with the name of the person who would fall heir to that item upon her passing.

Among the items I received are two three-ring binders, filled with magnetic scrapbook pages into which she had carefully placed hundreds of handwritten and newspaper-clipped recipes. Next to them are little handwritten notes about the recipes. She includes each recipe’s origin along with other tidbits of information she undoubtedly believed I would want to know, like for example, how many cookies she baked for her parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration on April 27, 1950 (10 dozen each of six different recipes, neatly arranged on facing pages). Many of the recipes are dated 1942 and, she notes, were in her original trousseau collection.

I stuck these binders away in a closet after we settled the estate and sold the house. I guess I just wasn’t ready to admit that her many years of cooking and mothering were over. Until this past week.

Going from one page to the next has been like sitting down with her over tea, once again. Oh, how she loved to recall names, occasions and “lovely times” with her friends and family. Each one of the recipes reminds me so much of her, and in that I’ve found comfort.

Make it Better Yourself: Homemade Coffee Creamer

UPDATE: As you know, Eufy RoboVac II SOLD OUT after 3 hours on Monday, leaving thousands of you disappointed. While we were not successful in getting the exact same deal, I’m happy that at least for right now (things can change fast) Eufy RoboVac II is $220 with free shipping (Looks like the Prime free shipping inventory sold out! It is still available, however with a fee for shipping). Consider this a  second chance. – mh

Cream. It’s coffee’s perfect mate. And when that creamer comes flavored in a handy bottle from the dairy case, even more perfect, right? Oh, but so pricey!

Generally, popular brands like Coffeemate, International Delight, Dunkin Donuts Extra Extra and Natural Bliss retail for $.10 to $.30 per ounce. Ouch! But you can make it yourself for a fraction of the price—and it is so easy. The hard part will be not using it all at once. Bonus: You’ll know exactly what’s in it and you can control sweetness and the flavors, too.

Stored in the refrigerator in a glass bottle or similar container with the tight-fitting in the refrigerator, homemade coffee creamer is good for at least 10 to 14 days.

Generally, homemade coffee creamers start with a base to which you add sweetener and flavor. There are two ways to make coffee creamer base—one that starts out sweet (Base Recipe #1)  and one that is not sweet to start (Base Recipe #2).

How to Store and Reheat Leftover Pizza

So, by some miracle you ended up with more pizza than you could eat—or you intentionally ordered a larger pie just to have leftovers. Great idea, unless those leftovers sit in the fridge until they dry up, curl up and turn downright disgusting.

Properly stored, leftover pizza will retain its best quality for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator or up to 2 months in the freezer.

STORE LEFTOVER PIZZA

The best way to store leftover pizza is NOT to leave it in the box and shove the whole thing in the refrigerator. The cardboard and air freely circulating around the slices will dehydrate them in a big hurry.

The best way is to stack and wrap: Place a single layer of slices on a dinner plate, top with a layer of wax, freezer, foil, or parchment paper, and keep stacking, alternating pizza and paper, until all the pizza’s on the plate. Wrap the whole thing tightly up in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. That’s it! It’s not as easy as just throwing the box in the fridge, but you’ll end up with tastier leftover pizza. Which leaves you with lot of cold, leftover pizza to reheat.

Mother’s Day Gift Idea: Spa in a Jar

I don’t mean to throw you into a panic, so let me say this gently in hushed tones: Mother’s Day is Sunday. Today is Wednesday. I think you get the picture. Don’t panic.

You still have time to buy a gift. In fact, thanks to Prime Shipping you can expect to have any one of these 16 guaranteed-to-please gifts delivered in time for the big day.

If you have more time than money this Mother’s Day—or just prefer to give homemade gifts—here’s my best gift idea requiring no particular artistic or crafty talent, that will cost less than ten bucks.

DIY SPA SET

Give the stressed-out moms on your list the gift of relaxation. Make your own bath product and them assemble them in a nice basket.

Bath Salts. 1 cup Epsom salts, 1 cup sea or rock salt, 20 drops fragrance oil, food coloring. Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until fully combined and color is even.