Recipe: Vanilla Extract


Vanilla extract- made from the cured seed pod of the vanilla orchid- is very easy to make. The quality of homemade extract can be superior to many commercial extracts. Very high quality vanilla beans at low prices are now available online. Recently I purchased a bundle of 40 fresh, plump seven inch long beans for under $15.00 on Ebay. Vanilla beans come in several varieties, bourbon, Tahitian, Madagascar and Mexican. I find using a variety of beans results in an extract with a more complex vanilla aroma and flavor.vanbeans

Alcohol is used as a base for extracting the essence of the vanilla bean. The flavor compounds in the beans are only soluble in alcohol. The longer the vanilla beans steep in the alcohol, the more intense the flavor becomes.  For my style of baking I prefer the flavor of cream sherry, rum or a combination of both as the base of my extract. Many people prefer a more neutral base and use vodka. No need to start with premium bottles of base alcohol for this, buy the least expensive you can find. 


1 bottle (750 ml) cream sherry, vodka or rum
8-10 vanilla beans slit in half lengthwise

Pour ¼ cup of the liquid from your bottle of sherry or rum and drop the split vanilla beans in. Return as much of the liquid to the bottle that will top it off and replace cap.

Place your bottle in a dark place (kitchen cupboard or pantry is fine) and shake every few days for 2 weeks and then once a month for 2-3 months. After that, your extract is ready to use in the same proportions as commercial extract. When your extract falls to about ½ of the bottle, top it off again with fresh sherry or rum. I have had a bottle with the original beans going for nearly 2 years. The aroma and flavor of the extract keep getting better with time. To use, measure exactly as your recipes require.


To give as a gift, decant your extract in attractive decorative glass bottles that can be found in houseware catalogs, houseware specialty stores and even dollar stores. I always put an extra bean or two split in half in my gift bottles so the person I give the extract to can continue to top the bottle off with new alcohol for a continuous source of vanilla extra for some time to come.

Las Vegas Hamburgers: Kilroy’s

kilroy's sign

Kilroy’s may not be THE best burger in Vegas (even though voted “Best in Las Vegas” in 2006) or the world (as their signs say), but it certainly is in the top 10. That’s saying quite a bit in a town that has a lot of establishments that sell great burgers. The first time we ate at Kilroy’s quite a few years ago we ate at the location on Buffalo (there’s another location on Grand Canyon Drive). It was dark and smoky and the walls were covered with hundreds of cool mismatched autographed photos of celebrities. We were delighted by those first burgers-big, juicy, grilled exactly as we ordered. The sides were equally outstanding-insanely good batter dipped fries, first rate onion rings…sigh.   A few years later it was remodeled, brightened up even. The old photos and booths were removed and replaced with trendy café tables. New video poker machines were installed at the bar and well, it lost most of the ambience. Thankfully, the burger and fries and onion rings are still just as good as that first burger, we just don’t hang around as long now that it feels like every other poker bar in town. 

There were rumors a couple of years ago when the smoking ban in restaurants here in Nevada went into effect that Kilroy’s was closing down their food operations to continue as just a video poker bar. Fortunately they didn’t. The burgers with many toppings available (try the ‘Baja’ with roasted green chile, jack cheese & black olives) and those great sides are still available. With so many dining options available to locals in Las Vegas, Kilroy’s is still in our regular dining rotation 

 (UPDATE 10/31/09  Sad to confirm that the Kilroy’s location on Buffalo (near W. Charleston) is indeed now closed.

Recipe: Vanilla Kipfel

vanilla kipfel

These Eastern European cookies are buttery and fragrant with vanilla and almonds. They look great on a Christmas cookie tray but are excellent anytime of the year with a cup of tea or coffee.

2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour

1 pinch salt

7/8 cup butter

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 egg

3 teaspoons vanilla sugar

1 1/4 cups ground almonds

additional ½ cup confectioners sugar mixed with ¼  cup vanilla sugar for coating finished cookies 

In a large mixing bowl, combine the salt and the flour. Cut in the butter and mix in with your hands.Add the confectioners’ sugar, the egg, the vanilla sugar, and the ground almonds to the flour mixture. Place the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into several parts. Make rolls that are approximately 1 inch thick. Cut the rolls into 1 inch pieces, and bend the pieces into the shape of a semicircle ( just like a croissant). Place the kipferl on a baking sheet, and leave them in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) for 10 to 15 minutes. When done, remove kipferl carefully. While still warm, roll the kipferl in a mixture of confectioners’ sugar and vanilla sugar.

Oktoberfest in Las Vegas

Sauerbraten, Schweinbraten and beer…not a polka tune but a mantra of the annual German festival called Oktoberfest. A number of German folks call Las Vegas home and planted delis and restaurants to prove it. You can get your yodel on and celebrate the annual beer fest at one of the following German restaurants assured that there will be plenty of beer and wurst. Lederhosen optional.hofbrauhaus

Hofbräuhaus Restaurant and Deli  4510 Paradise Rd will kick off the annual tradition with a ceremonial keg tapping from Siegfried & Roy on September 19 in their beer hall. They feature nightly live German music.

Cafe Heidelberg

Café Heidelberg  German Market and Restaurant  610 E. Sahara 

And if getting your yodel on in the privacy of your own back yard is more your speed you can stock up on German groceries at  the International Marketplace 5000 S. Decatur. They stock a nice selection of German foods if you decide to do-it-yourself 

Recipe: Hungarian Potato Casserole


Called Rakott Krumpli in Hungarian, my cousins & I only ate this when we were little because we liked to say it. Now that I’m a grown-up this is comfort food I crave. Omit the sausage from the recipe to make a classic eastern European side dish to serve with roasted meats. 

6 medium potatoes, boiled and cooled

4 hard boiled egg, sliced

16 ounces sour cream

1 lb cooked smoked sausage, sliced

Salt and pepper 

Grease an 8 inch baking dish or casserole. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Layer the sliced potatoes, eggs and sausage spreading sour cream between the layers seasoning the potato layer with salt & pepper to taste. 

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until hot & browned on top.

Recipe: Ricotta Cake

ricotta cake

This easy to prepare Italian cake is perfect with sliced fresh fruit or just fine all by itself.

1 1/4 pounds fresh whole-milk ricotta

pinch of salt

1 tablespoon flour

4 tablespoons sugar

4 large eggs, separated

1 teaspoon freshly grated orange rind

½ cup apricot preserves

4 tablespoons colored sprinkles

Place ricotta in a sieve and set aside to drain for approximately one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

In a large bowl, mix together drained ricotta, salt, flour, sugar, egg yolks and orange rind. Beat well for approximately five minutes until mixture is thick.  

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Fold gently but thoroughly into egg yolk mixture.  

Butter and flour a deep, round, springform cake pan, 8 1/2 to 9 inches in diameter. Pour batter into pan – it should not be more than half full. Place in oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until middle is firm to the touch and cake is lightly golden brown on top.  

Remove from oven and set aside to cool. As the cake cools, it will shrink somewhat. When cool, remove sides of pan and gently transfer cake to a serving dish.

In a small saucepan over medium heat warm the apricot preserves until warm and liquefied.  Push through a sieve to remove large pieces of fruit.  Pour evenly over the top of the warm cake.  Dust with colored sprinkles.

Battista’s Hole In the Wall

Battistas neon

Frank Sinatra ate here. And Dean Martin and all the other paisan did too. Back in the day this must have been home away from home for all the east coast Italians looking for a pile of linguine. Tucked away in a sort of little parking lot across from the Flamingo Battista’s Hole In the Wall has all the charm of an old Italian neighborhood red and white checked tablecloth Italian joint. Very little real estate has been around as long as this place or the old guy that has been playing the accordion there every night for probably 40 years. 

You don’t go to Battista’s for the world class food and wine, you go for the atmosphere. It’s not bad food mind you. It’s the kind of Italian fare you remember from when you were a kid-lasagna, ravioli, eggplant parmesan, linguine with clams, garlic bread-you get the idea. And at less than $25 for complete meals that include a house wine who cares. Gordie the accordion player is a Vegas institution that will take your mind off those uppity celebrity chef joints. He’ll make you smile even if you hate accordion music. We like this place because it’s a great little unpretentious place to just kick back and enjoy the Las Vegas strip without dropping big bucks for dinner. The place is a gem.

Battista’s Hole in the Wall
4041 Audrie St. (behind the Flamingo Hilton)



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