Homemade Vanilla Extract


Make vanilla extract as a Christmas gift for Stephanie’s coworkers.




  • Ingredients
  • Equipment:
    • gallon container
    • 2 oz. glass bottles with caps
    • white vinegar for sanitizing
    • turkey baster



Making the Extract

  1. Fill container with vodka
  2. Slit beans lengthwise with a sharp knife
  3. Place in vodka, close tightly.
  4. Store in cool, dark place for 2 months.

Fill Bottles

  1. Sanitize bottles in 50/50 vinegar-water mix for 10 minutes
  2. Dry
  3. Use turkey baster to fill bottles (weigh on a scale to ensure even distribution)
  4. Cut some vanilla beans in thirds (cross-section) and place in bottles.
  5. Cap.
  6. Label.


Results and observations:

Very fragrant. There seems to be enough flavor left in the beans to be able to repeat the process.



Pasta 3 Ways


To turn a simple pasta dinner into an hours-long ordeal. Sauce from Smitten Kitchen.




  • Double recipe Fresh Pasta for 2 dough.
  • Equipment:
    • Pasta roller
    • Food processor
  • For pasta filling and sauce
    • 100 grams sliced almonds
    • large handful of basil leaves
    • some parsley leaves
    • olive oil
    • salt
    • pepper
    • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and de-veined
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • handful of spinach
    • 2-3 oz Parmesan cheese


Start making the filling and sauce while the pasta dough is resting.

Step 0. Decide that a homemade sauce isn’t gourmet enough and that you’re a fancy pants cook who is going to make tortellini instead.


  1. In a pan/Dutch oven/skillet, toast the almonds in a teaspoon of olive oil for about 5 minutes.
  2. Pulse in a food processor until the almonds are about the size of orzo. (Or however fine you want them.) Leave aside in a bowl.
  3. Add  basil, quarter cup of olive oil, pinch of salt, garlic cloves, into food processor and process until smooth.
  4. Switch out the chopper for the grater in the processor and grate cheese. Fold into sauce with a spatula.
  5. Fold in about 80 grams of the almonds.


  1. Sautee shrimp with 1 clove of garlic and one teaspoon of olive oil.
  2. Add bunch of fresh parsley.
  3. Chop finely (quarter-inch shrimp pieces),  place in bowl
  4. Mix in the rest of the almonds
  5. Salt and Pepper to taste
  6. Add some other seasoning if you want

Pasta Making

  1. Roll the pasta really really thin. I got it to about a #6 on the KitchenAid pasta rolleer
  2. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut the pasta sheet into circles.
  3. Add a half-teaspoon of the filling into the center of the circle. Brush edges with a little water.
  4. Fold it into a semi-circle. Fold corners towards each other. Pinch them together.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 for a while.
  6. …..
  7. Get tired. Decide tortellini was a poor life decision and that ravioli would be easier.
  8. To do, start with step 1 (roll the pasta thin).
  9. Cut the sheet into a clean rectangle.
  10. Spoon out a teaspoon of filling with onto one half of the sheet about .75 inches away from each other (and a half inch from the edge).
  11. Dab some water onto one edge of the sheet.
  12. Fold over the pasta sheet. Squeeze out air and press the pasta together around the filling. Slice halfway between the filling mounds.
  13. Run out of filling.
  14. Turn the rest of the dough into tagliatelle.

Cooking the Pasta

  1. Bring salted water to a boil.
  2. Boil pasta for 4 minutes.
  3. Drain pasta, conserve quarter cup of pasta water.
  4. Use about 1 cup of the pasta sauce, add some pasta water to the pot and heat.
  5. Toss with pasta.
  6. Eat.

Results and observations:

Nom. But next time I’ll go straight to the regular pasta and toss in the shrimp.




Tool Test: Eppicotispai Chitarra Pasta Cutter



To make spaghetti using a chittara-style pasta cutter.



A chittara (guitar) pasta cutter uses a set of wires to cut the pasta in batches.

  1. Tighten the strings on the pasta cutter. Not too tight (more on this later).
  2. Make one serving of the Fresh Pasta for 2 dough.
  3. Roll the pasta to about 3mm this (#2 or #3 on the Kitchen Aid pasta roller
  4. Dust the pasta cutter with some flour.
  5. Place the flattened dough on top of the pasta cutter.
  6. Use a rolling pin to press the dough through the wires.
  7. You may need to use a spatula or your fingers to push the dough all the way through.
  8. Remove the pasta by turning the pasta cutter on its side.
  9. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
  10. Boil for 3 minutes in salted water.
  11. Serve with sauce.

Results and observations:

So this little contraption worked really well for spaghetti. It was really easy to use once you get the hang of it. I made Kenji’s basic meat sauce from The Food Lab cookbook.


Unfortunately, an attempt to replicate these results while hosting Stephanie’s parents was not successful. I loosened the strings for storage, and when I went to tighten them again for the second use, I found out that the wood was not strong enough to hold the tension beyond a certain point, i.e., I broke the pasta cutter. So be careful if you buy one of these cutters; they work well, but this particular model was pretty cheaply made.


Baby Back Ribs on the Grill


To make ribs on a hot Memorial Day day without using the oven on in the apartment.



  • Rack of baby back ribs (extra meaty!)
  • Rub:
    • Salt
    • Black Pepper
    • Garlic Powder
    • Chili Powder
    • Italian Seasoning
    • Dried Oregano
    • Onion Powder
    • Cumin
    • Smoked Paprika
  • Mop sauce:
    • Apple cider vinegar
    • Lime Juice
    • Sweet tea
  • BBQ Sauce


  • Grill (standard Weber kettle grill)
  • Charcoal (~72 pieces)
  • Charcoal chimney
  • Tongs (for charcoal)
  • Foil
  • Brush
  • Knife


Ribs, like a lot of barbecue, is best done “low and slow.” I wanted to set up my charcoal grill to last about 6 hours at around 200-230 degrees Fahrenheit, so I used the “snake method” (link to video). I just used some random extra firewood as the smoke wood, since I didn’t really care too much about smoke flavor.

Prepare the ribs

  1. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels.
  2. Make a small slit in the membrane on the bony side of the ribs. Use your fingers to remove this membrane. My trick is to separate the middle part of the membrane as far as I can before pulling it off. This way you get do it in one piece.
  3. Salt the ribs on both sides.
  4. Mix the other ingredients (about 1 T each..just wing it) in a bowl.
  5. Rub the mixture all over the ribs on all sides.

Prepare the grill:

  1. Arrange two rows of 20 charcoal briquettes along one edge of the grill. Place another row of briquettes on top. Add some wood chips or blocks too if you want some smoke.
  2. Light 8 pieces of charcoal in a chimney.
  3. When the charcoal is fully gray and glowing, add them to one end of the charcoal “snake.” Make sure a few of the hot briquettes are touching the snake, obviously.
  4. Put the cooking grate on the grill, and place a piece of foil on the far side of the grill from the heat source.
  5. Place the ribs bone side down on the foil.

Prepare the mop sauce.

  1. Mix some vinegar, tea, and lemon/lime juice in a bowl.
  2. Every 30 minutes, use a brush to brush the liquid on the ribs.


  1. Rotate the ribs 180 degrees at the 2 and 4 hour marks.
  2. Occasionally rotate the whole grill rack to keep the ribs on the far side away from the heat.
  3. After around 5 hours and 30 minutes, brush on some barbecue sauce for the final glaze.
  4. After a final 20-30 minutes, transfer to a cutting board, slice, and serve!

Results and observations:


Pictures at 0h, 3h, 6h, 6.25h. Nom. I forgot to add sauce to the bony side of the ribs at the end, but it wasn’t a big deal since I added sauce on my plate. I’ve heard mixed reviews on the actual utility of mop sauces while slow-cooking on the grill, so I’ll probably do more research on that next time. Apparently my charcoal setup was enough to last another hour or so, which would be good for bigger ribs or if I were doing two racks.

S’mores Cupcakes


To make a summer party-worthy dessert for a non-chocoholic as quickly as possible.



  • All-purpose flour
  • Graham crackers or crumbs
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Cinnamon
  • Unsalted butter
  • Granulated sugar
  • Dark brown sugar
  • Eggs
  • Buttermilk
  • Milk or semi-sweet chocolate
  • Heavy cream
  • Cream of tartar
  • Vanilla extract


  • Kitchen Aid mixer
  • Kitchen scale
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Spatula
  • Muffin tin with cupcake liners
  • Pot that fits Kitchen Aid bowl


This protocol was adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s S’more Cupcakes. I love Deb AND many of her recipes make me say “ain’t nobody got time for that.” Below is a quick and dirty way to make these marvelous cupcakes. I got home from work after 7 and was out the door by 8:45, having eaten dinner and made the cupcakes. My sous chef had done steps 1-4 before I arrived to save time! (Lessons from the lab – delegation is key, take all shortcuts that don’t negatively affect the outcome/reliability of the data.)

Prepare the cupcakes:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and place cupcake liners in a 12-cup standard tin.
  2. Food process 7 graham cracker sheets to make crumbs.
  3. Chop 4 oz chocolate.
  4. Weigh 125 g flour, 110 g graham cracker crumbs, 3/8 tsp baking powder, 3/8 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon into a bowl and stir.
  5. In Kitchen Aid, cream 1 stick butter with 67 g granulated and 106 g dark brown sugar.
  6. Add eggs one at a time, mixing and scraping between.
  7. Add 1/3 dry ingredients, mix. Add 1/2 C buttermilk, mix. Repeat. Add remainder of dry ingredients.
  8. Distribute batter among cupcake liners and bake 20 m or until toothpick comes out clean. While the cupcakes are in the oven, make the filling and frosting.

Prepare the filling:

  1. Put 4 oz chopped chocolate, 1/3 C heavy cream, and a pinch of salt in a small microwaveable bowl.
  2. Nuke for 30 s, followed by 15 s increments, until chocolate begins to melt. Stir until fully melted and set aside.

Prepare the frosting:

  1. In a VERY CLEAN Kitchen aid bowl, put 2 egg whites, 133 g granulated sugar, 1/4 tsp cream of tartar, and 3/4 tsp vanilla into a heatproof bowl and set over a pot with 1/2″-1″ of water on low to medium low heat.
  2. Whisk about 3 m, until sugar dissolves and egg whites are warm.
  3. Move the bowl to the Kitchen Aid with whisk attachment, gradually increase mixer speed to high, and beat until stiff peaks form, 4-7 m.
  4. Add vanilla and mix to combine.

Assemble the cupcakes:

  1. When the cupcakes are cooked, pop the whole tin in the freezer until the metal is cool to the touch.
  2. Use a measuring Tsp to remove cake from the center of the cupcakes.
  3. Use a table teaspoon to fill the whole with chocolate filling.
  4. Use a table tablespoon to dollop frosting on top.

Results and observations:


The cupcakes were tasty! Very summery, very s’mores. This is definitely the 80/20 rule (80% of the output is due to 20% of the input) version of the recipe – I’m sure they would have looked nicer and had a slightly better texture if I let them cool normally and used a piping bag for the filling and frosting, but for me it’s not worth the time. I did end up toasting the ends of the frosting with a flame later on, as it gives it the final touch.

Chocolate-dipped Salted Caramels


To make completely homemade chocolate caramel candies.



  • Unsalted butter
  • Chocolate
  • Sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Heavy cream
  • Vanilla beans/vanilla extract


  • Kitchen scale
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Spatula
  • Accurate digital thermometer or candy thermometer (good for 80-250 F)
  • Waxed paper
  • Sharp knife
  • Dipping tool or fork or toothpicks


This protocol was adapted from Food & Wine’s Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Caramels.

Prepare the caramels:

  1. Melt 2 sticks unsalted butter over medium low heat. (Don’t let it get too hot – butter will smoke and burn low temperatures relative to cooking oils.)
  2. Stir in 500 g sugar, 1 C heavy cream, 1 C corn syrup, and seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract.
  3. Gradually bring to a boil, stirring.
  4. Cook over medium low heat until it reaches 245 F. This takes about an hour, and the mixture will be sticky and light to medium brown. Be careful – it will burn you badly if you get it on your skin, because the outside will cool and harden while the inside continues to burn.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare a 13×9 pan by lining it with foil and spraying with canola oil.
  6. Remove caramel from heat and stir in 1 Tbsp salt.
  7. Pour/scrape into prepared pan, cover loosely, and let harden overnight. (You can also spoon some of the fresh hot caramel over ice cream. Yum!)

Temper chocolate and dip the caramels:

This protocol was adapted from David Lebovitz’s How to Temper Chocolate. The purpose of tempering chocolate is to ensure that you form as much as possible of the ideal polymorph of the cocoa butter (polymorph V) in the chocolate. For those of you who love science as much as I do, see Compound Interest’s Infographic on Structures of Chocolate or Chocolate Alchemy’s instructions on how an organic chemist would temper chocolate. Polymorph V gives a beautiful sheen and crunch to the chocolate.

  1. Set a bowl over a pot or skillet with an inch or so of simmering water so that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the bottom of the pot or skillet, and ideally does not touch the water either.
  2. Melt 10.5 oz 50-70% cacao chocolate in the bowl, stirring frequently with the spatula. Remove from heat once the chocolate reaches ~115 F, even if the chocolate is not all melted, and continue stirring until smooth.
  3. Once smooth, drop in a >1 oz piece of well tempered chocolate. I used a freshly purchased chocolate bar that was shiny and had a nice “snap” when broken. Do not use any chocolate that has any signs of fat bloom (that’s what it’s called when your chocolate is in the pantry too long or gets hot in the car and then turns white).
  4. Stir until the chocolate has cooled to about 80 F.
  5. Carefully heat the chocolate back up to 88-90 F, and try to keep it at this temperature throughout the dipping process by reheating as needed. If you heat the chocolate above 92 F, you technically need to start over.
  6. Turn the caramels out onto waxed paper sprayed with cooking spray and use a sharp knife to cut into 1″ squares.
  7. Dip the squares into chocolate and transfer to waxed paper. (This took me forever because I had poor technique – I stabbed them with toothpicks, swirled around in the chocolate, and then tried to scrape off excess chocolate. I have since learned that the correct technique is to use a dipping tool like a fork, submerge the caramel, and then hold the tool under the caramel in the chocolate and lift it straight out of the chocolate, and then tap it straight up and down against the surface of the chocolate until there are no more drips, ~3 times, then slide off the fork onto the waxed paper). Serious Eats describes this technique nicely.
  8. Let the chocolate set, then store at room temperature. Properly tempered chocolate sets very quickly, so if you want to decorate the chocolates with sea salt, do it right away. Callebaut has great suggestions for different ways you can decorate your chocolates.

Results and observations:

Caramels setting up overnight.toseton

Cutting into the turned out caramels the next day.cuttingcaramels

The caramels were delicious, if slightly salty for my taste. Next time I would use 1-2 teaspoons of salt in the caramel, and then use salt (maybe an especially pretty one like Himalayan pink?) to decorate the top.

Finished dipped chocolates.caramels

As I mentioned above, proper chocolate dipping technique is crucial. It’s pretty difficult to keep the chocolate at the right temperature for the amount of time necessary to dip all the chocolates, so next time I would use square or rectangular candy molds, paint in a layer of chocolate, cut the caramels the right size to fit, and then pour/pipe chocolate over the caramels to fill the mold. Alternatively, I could try a Sous Vide style precision cooker or a melting pot made to maintain candy temperatures. Molds are $2-5, the other solutions ~$190. 10.5 oz wasn’t quite enough for me to dip all the chocolates, but it might have been enough if I had used the fork technique. I wrapped the undipped ones individually in waxed paper. I didn’t decorate the candies this time, but I’m excited to try some decorations next time. This recipe makes a lot of chocolates, which is great for sharing! I plan to take these to the office 🙂

Fresh Pasta for 2

Purpose: To make homemade noodles (Italian)

2.5 oz 00 pasta flour
2.5 oz semolina flour
1 egg
2 egg yolks
teaspoon salt
Procedure: (recipe is Classic Fresh Egg Pasta from Serious Eats, halved with different flour)
1. Mix dry ingredients in bowl, then dump on pastry mat. Shape a crater in the middle.
2. Beat eggs and egg yolk in bowl. Pour into flour creator, creating an egg volcano.
3. Gradually incorporate flour into egg lava with fork.
4. Switch to pastry scraper and fold in remaining flour until ball shaped. Add liquid if necessary (I did this by dipping my fingers into egg white and gently patting the dough).
5. Knead by placing hand on dough and rolling forward with pressure. Do this for 10 minutes.
6. Shake out tired arms.
7. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and rest for 45 minutes. This is a good time to prep  the rest of the meal.
8. Cut into quarters.
9. Starting with 1 quarter, roll out into .5 inch piece, hopefully vaguely rectangular. Dust with some semolina flour
10. Run through pasta press 3 times through the first three settings (3x#1, 3x#2, 3x#3).
11. Laminate dough by folding in the sides. The more narrow your eventual rectangle, the longer your noodles wlll be.
12. Starting again from the widest setting, go all the way to #4, sometimes #5 on the pasta press.
13. If the dough gets too long, cut it in half.
14. Cut the noodles. I did this using a variety of folding and cutting methods…but I realize I should have just used my pizza cutter. Dusting helps if you fold it.
15. Dust with semolina flour; arrange on sheet in a way that minimizes sticking.
16. Repeat steps 9-15 until you’ve rolled and cut all the dough.
17. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling.
18. Boil all the the pasta in one go for 90 seconds, stirring occasionally (especially in the first 20 seconds) to keep from sticking.
19. Strain and immediately add sauce (I used homemade pesto); add pasta water if needed.
20. Nom.
Results and Observations:
Need to remember to dust with extra flour before running through machine/cutting to prevent sticking. Otherwise, nom.