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Kitchen 101

Kitchen 101

The Best Way To Chop Chocolate [video]

Chopping chocolate can sometimes be messy and inconvenient, so many home cooks simply “skip” this step by buying chocolate chunks or chips. And there’s nothing wrong with that, except it limits the kinds of chocolate you can use in a recipe. This “Super Quick Video Tip” from the masterminds at America’s Test Kitchen is perfect for the home baker who wants an insider tip from the pros.

Kitchen 101

How To Quickly Soften Butter

Have you ever fantasized about a dream destination for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation? Lately, I’ve been obsessed with America’s Test Kitchen. All day long they tinker with kitchen gadgets and recipes, and share their great finds with us. That sounds like a dream job (or vacation) to me.

For those of you who forget (like me) when a recipe calls for room temperature butter, there’s no more waiting. Instead, follow this simple tip from America’s Test Kitchen – and it will also give you a chance to blow off some steam!

DIY/ Kitchen 101

Homemade Vanilla Extract

whole vanilla beans

Have you ever wondered what “exactly” was in vanilla extract? For me, I’ve always been mesmerized by the calming, yet sensual, aroma of pure vanilla extract. And as good bakers know, vanilla is an essential for most recipes (especially, and somewhat ironically, those with chocolate!) – but it can be quite expensive.

I started reading Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques by Shauna Sever (a former Chicagoan, so I’m already a fan!) and she does a great job of explaining the many roles vanilla plays in our cuisine and our culture. Because I’ve been on a bit of a DIY kick of late, I wanted to see if making vanilla extract was as simple as it seemed. While I quadrupled the batch, the recipe is from Shauna Sever. [Once you see the “baking time” of the recipe, you’ll understand why I made such a large batch. Time management in the kitchen!]

You’ll need only two ingredients to make this homemade vanilla extract (vanilla beans and vodka!), one sealed jar, a paring knife and lots of patience. The vanilla needs to steep for at least 2 months in a cool, dark place before you use it for the first time.


  • 8 vanilla beans, cut in half (I used Madagascar vanilla beans found on Amazon; they were the highest quality beans I could locate at an affordable price)
  • 32 ounces vodka
  • sealed glass jar

Pour the vodka into a clean jar, and set aside. With your paring knife, split the vanilla beans down the middle. Insert split beans into the jar and securely seal it.


vanilla extract mise en place

Shake the bottle to ensure it’s properly sealed and to moisten all of the vanilla beans. Make sure the entire vanilla bean is submerged in the vodka.  

homemade vanilla extract in jar


Store the jar in a cool, dark place for at least 2 months before using. The liquid should be a dark amber color (see final product below, after 3 months).

homemade vanilla extract


Shauna recommends that as you use the extract you can top off the jar with more vodka (or whatever clear alcohol used) for a “nearly never-ending supply.” Mazel!

DIY/ Kitchen 101

Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend

Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend


1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves


In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Store in an airtight container in a dark, cool space for up to 6 months.