Let me introduce you to one of my very best friends in the pantry, homemade vanilla extract. I made my first batch of it back in October of last year – to give as Christmas gifts, and I haven’t looked back! I can’t tell you how much money I’ve saved over the past few months, a small fortune I’m sure.

As with most DIY projects, I really take pride every time I take it out of the cabinet to bake with. It’s so easy too – you just need some cheap vodka, vanilla beans, and time. You need to let the beans “steep” for about 2 months before you start using the extract, but the longer it sits – the better it gets! I keep 2 jars in rotation to ensure that I never run out.

My all time favorite appetizer, hands down. When crab dip is good, it can be soooo good. But, when it’s bad …yowza. I’m fortunate enough to live in a place where a bushel of the bay’s best crabs are just a 30 minute drive on the backroads – to Crisfield, Maryland. You buy them directly off of the boat, for insanely cheap price (well, most of the year anyways. They mark them up Memorial Day and July 4th). Jon has converted a beer keg into a cooking vessel – so we can cook a whole bushel at a time. Combine that with a kegerator in the garage and it makes for one awesome crab feast!

If there are any leftover soldiers, I’ll usually pick them to make a batch of crab dip up the following night. It’s so rich and creamy, it really makes a meal. This recipe was given to me by a very dear friend of the family, who shall go unnamed to maintain her anonymity.  But, I love her forever for sharing it with me. It’s just the right balance of everything, really allowing the crab to shine.

One word of caution though, do not to skimp on crab meat. The plastic tubs are usually okay, but that canned stuff is just whack. No one wants crab meat all the way from Vietnam. Enjoy this one if you can, it’s definitely one of my favorites!

It’s been a trying week in my kitchen, and it’s only Wednesday. To start out the weekend, I discovered the door to our stand up freezer in the basement was left ajar for a couple of days. It needed a good cleaning out anyways, but still, talk about a waste. Then, to make matters worse, when cooking dinner on Friday evening – the propane tank that fuels the cook top ran out. We only have to have it filled once a year, and I guess it just slipped my mind. That meant going until Monday without a propane delivery. Thankfully, we have a beast of a grill with a handy side burner. It’s saved our butts more times than I can count when we’ve been without electricity for an extended period of time.

However, one thing that I couldn’t do on my trusty grill was preserve the 15 lbs of strawberries we picked on Saturday afternoon. So, we went over to my Mom’s house yesterday to can, and it was a great afternoon. Mom always enjoys spending time with the boys, and it was nice not to have them pulling on my apron strings when I was in the process of canning. Hot jars + boiling water + toddlers just makes me nervous!

I couldn’t be happier with how this jam turned out. At first taste, it’s pure delicious strawberry.  But, comin’ up from behind is a lovely smokey, slow burn from the chipotles. I intended to do one batch of this, and one batch of a traditional strawberry jam. But, I loved this so much that I went ahead and did a double batch. I can’t wait to try it mixed into BBQ sauce, brushed onto grilled pork, or making a fun dipping sauce for coconut shrimp. Definitely plan on entering this one into my local fair come August!

We went strawberry picking this weekend! The pick-your-own orchard down the street from us didn’t have strawberries available this year. Their beds aren’t covered, so the frost got to all the blossoms. Total bummer! As it worked out though, here on the Eastern Shore, there is never a strawberry patch too far in the horizon.

We went to the homebrew shop on Saturday, and on the way there was a farm that had pick-your-own berries available. You take a tractor ride to get to the patch, and Andrew has been talking it ever since. Took virtually no time to fill up 2 boxes of berries, totaling about 17 lbs. Andrew was a great helper this year too! He did a great job only picking the ripest and reddest of berries.

I’ve got some great stuff in the pipeline with these beauties! First off, this delicious strawberry yogurt cake. I whipped this up on Saturday night to enjoy as a light breakfast on Mother’s Day morning. So fresh, light (yet dense!), and incredibly moist – it was the perfect treat with my cup of coffee on Sunday. Came together really easily with ingredients you more than likely already have in your fridge and pantry. As an extra bonus, I got to use my Bundt pan, which I often feel gets neglected. Berry season is in full swing here on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and is heading north. Get while the gettins’ good, folks! Enjoy!