Vanilla Bean Sugar


For a new twist on sugar, consider flavoring it with a vanilla bean. Mexican vanilla beans are cheaper and have an earthy aroma. Tahitian vanilla beans are more expensive, but more potent and floral. I prefer the latter, with just one bean flavoring a whole jar of sugar.


  • Cut the bean in half, lengthwise
  • Scrape out the “vanilla caviar” (those tiny black specks you see in vanilla bean ice cream) with the knife
  • Place into a mortar and pestle with about a 1/4 cup of sugar.
  • Grind and mix the bean paste evenly through the sugar (it is moist, so the sugar tends to clump)
  • This is a potent mixture, so fill a mason jar with about 2 cups of sugar, mix in the vanilla mixture, put on the lid and shake, shake, shake!
  • Lastly, pop in the pods (now quartered) to add even more flavor
  • This sugar is amazing in tea or coffee, in baking (pudding, sugar cookies, panna cotta) and it even gets better with age

You can also make your own vanilla extract by soaking a few cut beans in a small jar of alcohol (vodka, rum, bourbon) for a few weeks.

The easiest and most delicious refried beans ever

Sure, opening a can of beans for taco night is quick and easy, but once you taste homemade refried beans, you will never be able to eat them out of a can again. Cooking with dried beans may seem to be a tedious process, but really there are more upsides than down. First, they are very nutritious — high is protein, fiber, folate and magnesium. Second, they are so very inexpensive. Generally, a pound of dried beans is well under a dollar and one can of beans in the store can be upward of $1.50 (organic) and only yields about 2 cups of beans. I’d say the biggest downside to cooking your own dried beans is time — but with planning ahead of time and a crockpot it’s not really a problem.

Homemade Refried Beans YUM

Homemade Refried Beans – YUM

Overall, it takes about 24 hours total. Here are the steps I take:

Pound of dried Pinto Beans

1 onion finely diced

1 Tsp Cumin

1 Tsp Garlic Powder

Salt to taste

Optional: 2 tbsp butter or a tbsp bacon fat or 1/2 cup of shredded cheese

The night before you are going to have refried beans with your meal, soak them in the crockpot overnight. Soaking beans helps them cook better, helps to remove the “beans, beans, the musical fruit” factor, and cleans the beans too. I usually do about 3-4 cups of dried Pinto Beans and cover with water, at least 2 inches above the beans because they will grow considerably. Keep in mind that they will double in size on average.


In the morning while you are making breakfast, drain the water and give a good rinse. Refill the crockpot with fresh water, and if leaving for the day make sure to cover them generously with water because they will grow even larger and also use a lot of the cooking liquid.

Soaked Pinto Beans

After soaking over night, the beans will double in size

One important thing to remember is never add salt to the cooking water. This can impede the cooking process and sometimes the beans will never become thoroughly tender. You can season to taste during the “refried” process.

Turn the crockpot on the lowest setting and let them cook all day.

Once the beans are cooked, do not drain the water! You will use this “juice” to make them very creamy. I use a Chinese spider strainer to get all of the beans out and leave the liquid behind.

Now for the refried part:

Finely dice an onion and saute with oil in a large pot.

Add in a teaspoon of dried Cumin (the magic ingredient!) and a teaspoon of Garlic Powder. Cooking the spices while sauteing opens up the flavor.

Add in the cooked beans, in batches while smashing them with a potato masher until they get relatively smooth. While mashing, ladle in the “bean juice” to add liquid and make them creamier.

At the end, season to taste with kosher salt. Beans are very bland, so you will need to add quite a bit of salt, but start with a little and keep tasting them until satisfied. This particular version is actually Vegan, but you can always take it up a notch by adding a knob of butter, some bacon fat (cook the onions in it!) or shredded cheese at the end.

This makes a very large batch, so my favorite thing to do is vacuum seal (Food Saver) a couple of bags of beans in serving sizes and freeze. On taco night, soak the bag in some hot water to thaw and empty into a pan to reheat (definitely not a fan of microwaving in plastic…) Personally, I can’t get enough and even have some for breakfast with eggs and some hot sauce!

Baked Eggs in Ramekins with Soldiers (Eggs en Cocotte)

If you want a super simple breakfast and look fancy too, make Eggs en Cocotte (or just baked eggs in ramekins). It’s hard to go wrong with this breakfast recipe — just add cheese, bacon, spinach, onions, mushrooms — or all of the above! Pair with ‘Soldiers’ or just toast cut into 4 strips for dipping and you have the perfect breakfast in no time.


Preheat the oven to 350° and grease 4 ramekins (souffle dishes) with butter or cooking spray. For the most simple version, sprinkle cheese into the bottom, traditionally Gruyere, or create a vegetable mix to fill the bottom. If you decide to use veg, dice up some onions, peppers, leeks, spinach, etc and quickly saute in a pan to pre-cook the mixture. The eggs don’t bake for very long, so the veggies might be a little raw if you don’t pre-cook.

Crack 2 eggs per ramekin and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet (in case of spillover) and bake for about 15-18 minutes, depending on how runny you like the yolks. If serving with Soldiers, the runnier the better for dipping! Bon Appetit!

Supreme an Orange

Supreming an orange — or any citrus — is a lesser known technique among home cooks, but a fabulous trick for getting each section out of the fruit without the white pithy membrane (think canned mandarin oranges or grapefruit cups). Spending a little extra work will make the citrus much more enjoyable in any fruit salad, dessert or salad topping.

Step 1: Cut off each end of the orange (the “belly-button” ends)


Step 2: Carefully remove the peel by slicing off in vertical strips, and cutting close to the fruit to remove all of the white pith

supreme-orange-2Step 3: Identify each section by the thin white line and carefully cut along each side of the section to remove from the fruit.


Step 4: Work all the way around the orange until all sections are removed and all that’s left is the remaining membranes. See how perfect each piece is!


This can take some practice, so working with a larger citrus fruit like a Grapefruit or Pomelo can help you hone your new skill. Also be very careful and use a sharp paring knife for best results. Impress your friends and family!

How to Roast Beets

Beets: I know they are good for me, but what they heck do I do with them. Or the more common “yuck!” Our friend the Beetroot continues to show up in those “Top 10 Superfoods” slideshows (Thanks Oprah!). They are fairly inexpensive, last in the fridge and are full of antioxidants and fiber. Anyhow, it’s easier than you might think — and even more delicious when paired with the perfect combination of flavors. Here are two methods for cooking beets.


Beets: What do I do with these things?

Method #1: Roasted Beets in the Oven

1. Scrub any excess dirt from the beet. If they still have greens attached, save them! You can cook them up like kale greens. If your beets are softball sized (like the above) halve or quarter them for faster cooking.

2. Wrap each beet individually in foil and place on a baking pan to catch drippings.

3. Cook the beets at 375° for 1-1/2 hours. Stick a knife into the beet to determine done-ness.

roasted-beets4. Here’s the best part. Carefully remove the hot beets from the foil and run them under cold water. The outer skins should slip right off. One thing to consider is the red juices which can stain your clothes and skin, so you might want to wear a pair of latex gloves.

Method #2: Boiled Beets on the Stove

1. Scrub and halve or quarter each beet. I’ve heard to leave on the ends  (the stem stub and the long pointy root) to retain more flavor.

2. Place in a pot and cover with at least 2 inches of water. They have to cook for a long time, so the water can evaporate and you don’t want them to burn in the pan. Slightly salt the water.

3. Boil on the stove for about 45 min- 1 hr. Check water levels often since they will be at a boil/simmer the whole time.

4. Run cold water over the beets for a min and the skins should peel right off.

DSC_0756Whichever way you decide to cook them (hint: roasting takes longer, but they are more flavorful), cut them up and place into a container. You can eat them in a bowl with dressing or get creative with a beet salad.

I’ll admit, beets on their own are not tasty — it’s when you compliment them with specific pairings that they become magical and you just can’t get enough. Here’s a list of beets best friends:

-Salt, pepper, oil and red wine vinegar

-Arugula and warm goat cheese with vinaigrette

-BLUE CHEESE: crumbles or creamy dressing is the most ideal combination

-Lemon juice, olive oil and salt

Play with combinations of tangy and salty to really liven them up!

A WORD OF CAUTION: put a note on the back of the bathroom door as a reminder, because beets come back to haunt. And I’ll be frank when I say that beets can dye your pee magenta! Don’t be alarmed, it’s just a reminder of their super potent antioxidants.

Make Hard Boiled Eggs in the Oven!

Boiling eggs can be a pain, especially if you need to make a large batch, like for a deviled egg platter. This might be one of the most amazing kitchen tips to date — cooking hard “boiled” eggs in the oven. The come out perfect every time and literally fall out of the shells after they take a little ice bath.

The first step is to take your standard muffin tin and evenly place the eggs in each compartment. Hard-Boiled-Eggs-in-Oven

Next, follow these steps:

1. Place the pan with eggs into a cold oven (i.e. don’t preheat)

2. Turn up the oven to 325°

3. Cook for 30 minutes

4. Immediately place the eggs into a cold water ice bath for about 10 minutes

5. Peel all of the eggs right away for best results. Voila!

The whites will be creamier and less rubbery than boiled. The yolks should be cooked the perfect shade of yellow.

Please note that each egg may have a tiny brown spot on the whites where it had contact with the pan. Just pick it off if you find it unsightly.

One other tip I would like to point out, and this might sound weird/gross, but the older the eggs, the better they will peel. For some reason, fresh eggs make terrible boiled ones.

NOW, if you are still intent on boiling the eggs the “old fashioned” way – here is my method I grew up with.

-Place cold eggs into a pan of cold water and cover at least one inch

-Add a sprinkle of salt to the water

-Bring up to a boil, and immediately turn off the heat once they eggs boil

-Cover the pan and set the timer for 12 minutes

-Immerse in a bath of cold water to help cool the eggs and ease shell removal (later)

-Place back in the egg carton (with shells still on) and mark with an “H” with a pencil for hard boiled

At any rate, I much prefer the oven method and will most likely never boil an egg again.

How to Cut a Mango

Mangoes can be deceiving. So plump and juicy, lest we forget there is a giant pit in the middle taking up 2/3 of the space. Cutting a mango is sort of an art because you are trying to maximize fruit without the pit getting in the way. Here is a guide on how to cut a mango the proper way.

The mango pit is narrow which allows you to slice the meat off each side, making two pieces. Take care not to catch the pit in your slice since it will be a bit fibery. It is almost as if you are cutting it into thirds, leaving the pit in the middle.


Next, score each slice with parallel cuts but don’t pierce the mango skin. Do it on the diagonal to end up with diamonds.


Now comes the fancy part. Turn the mango “inside-out” and each piece will be easily accessible and it looks oh-so-pretty.


Peel the skin off the middle pit and happily eat the remaining fruit from the middle (just gnaw it off!) You can also cut the diced mango off the piece to add to a fruit salad or salsa.

There are also some nifty gadgets out there like this mango splitter.

How to Chop an Onion

One of the most important ingredients to have in your pantry at all times is The Onion. This mighty vegetable can add so much flavor to any dish — as an aromatic (mire poix – more on that later) or even as the main event (caramelized onion tarte, anyone?) So how do you chop an onion? There are many techniques out there and I have tried a few different variations, but I have settled on this one as the tried and true way to chop an onion.

Step 1: A firm onion without any mushy spots and a nice sharp chef’s knife

Step 1 - firm onion and sharp knife

Step 2: Cut off each end of the onion

Cut off each end of the onion

Step 3: Make an incision through the paper layer and the first layer of the onion and peel away both for quick removal

Peel away paper layer and first layer of onion

Step 4: Cut the onion in half length-wise


Step 5: Slice the onion along the “lines” but (most important thing) do NOT go all the way to the end, separating from the main piece

Slice along the lines, leaving the whole onion in tact

Step 6: Turn the onion and slice in the opposite direction, creating nice diced pieces. Once the end “in-tact” piece is left just chop that into small chunks. Then repeat with the other piece of onion.

Slice and dice in the other direction

The nice thing about this technique is that you can easily control the size of the dice. You can do much smaller pieces with slices closer together, or you can create larger chunks for (like for a chili or soup) by making the slices further apart. Also, for Fajitas or caramelized onions, skip Step 5 and just slice for nice long pieces for sauteing.