Category: syrups & infusions

Strawberry vinegar.

Easy strawberry infused vinegar!

Happy June, everyone. It’s finally here! BERRY TIME! We’ve all been waiting patiently for some fresh fruits (other than citrus of course) to spice up our kitchens. And for jam/jelly-making of course.

Sometimes though, we end up with a surplus of something. Or some runts that aren’t quite good enough for eating fresh, and didn’t make the cut for making jam with or baking with. And that’s when we need to use those for something else. And why not an infused vinegar?

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Spiced bourbon. Need I say more?

Last fall around this time, I posted a recipe for spiced honey; honey infused with spices & lemon. It was a great thing to have around last winter when I thought I’d die. No seriously. I was in the midst of two TERRIBLE bouts of severe cold/bronchitis & it really helped immensely. I added it to tea & I had spoonfuls of it straight from the jar. I’m still making a few jars of it for this winter. However this year… I’m also going with spiced alcohol.

Spiced Buffalo Trace Bourbon; with cardamom, vanilla & cinnamon.

Truth be told, I am not  was never a bourbon girl. Not really. I’d drink it in an old fashioned, even drink it on the rocks. But it’s never been my favorite thing to drink alone. But lately, when it comes to infusions & whipped creams & baked goods & even pickles… bourbon has become my “boo thang.”

Jay loves him some bourbon. He’s my go-to bourbon guy. If I need it for a recipe, I ask him. Which one is best in this, which one would be good for that, which is too expensive to bake with (notice: don’t touch the Pappy Van Winkle, whatever you do), which one would go well in cake, you get the idea.

‘Tis the season for warming drinks. Bourbon, brandy, whiskey, etc. Fall & winter just screams for that kind of thing. Hot toddy’s, hot milk punch, hot buttered whiskey, all that. And like I said, while I’m not a fan of straight up bourbon, I do enjoy some infused varieties. I added that cherry bourbon to Cokes all winter, not to mention I made chocolate sauce with it. And listen: who wouldn’t love some vanilla-infused spiced bourbon?

Loony people, that’s who.

A recipe for spiced Buffalo Trace bourbon.

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Ch-ch-ch-chili oil.

Okay, guys. This is another one of those “not really a recipe” recipes. Meaning it’s more like a how-to, not so much a full on recipe, just like that tarragon vinegar I made.

Homemade chili oil how-to.

Yep. Chili oil. An incredibly versatile condiment used for both cooking & as a “garnish” if you will.

Chili oil (also called hot chili oil or hot oil) is a condiment made from vegetable oil that has been infused with chili peppers. It is commonly used in Chinese cuisine, East and Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Particularly popular in Sichuan cuisine, it is used as an ingredient in cooked dishes as well as a condiment. It is sometimes used as a dip for meat and dim sum. It is also employed in the Korean Chinese noodle soup dish jjamppong.

Chili oil is typically red in color. It is made from vegetable oil, often soybean oil or sesame oil, although olive oil or other oils may be used. Other spices may be included such as Sichuan peppergarlic, or paprika. The spices are soaked in oil. Commercial preparations may include other kinds of oil, water, dried garlic, soy sauce, and sugar. Recipes targeted to Western cooks also suggest other popular oils such as rapeseedgrapeseed or peanut, and any dried or fresh chili peppers. The solids typically settle to the bottom of the container in which it is stored. When using chili oil, the cook or diner may choose how much of the solids to use; sometimes only the oil is used, without any solids.

Chili oil is commercially available in glass jars, although it may also be made from scratch at home.[1] It is usually available by request at Chinese restaurants.

-Wikipedia

You can use any dried pepper you like, from Habanero (WHOA!) to chipotle to Ancho to Thai chili pepper (WHOA again!). Depending on the pepper you use, your flavor will differ or range from spicy to mild & smoky to hot & fiery. And of course, that depends on your taste. But choose wisely- if you’re not a fan of hot stuff, don’t use a super hot pepper. The internet is a great resource for Scoville scale measurements & also to find out what peppers taste like what.

Ever since my debacle last year with searching for chipotles, I’ve since learned to never be without dried chilies. When I find them, I buy them. I haven’t in a while because it just so happens I have a full stash. But I have noticed that this year, dried peppers are much more common, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding any. If you grow your own peppers, you can dehydrate them yourself to use in flavoring oil or other recipes. I keep my stash in a quart jar, hidden in a cool, dark, dry place so they stay dry.

Dried chilies for homemade chili oil.

The oil you use will also depend on you. What will you be using the oil for? Olive oil is good if you’re using it as a garnish. Vegetable oil, corn oil or peanut oil are best if you plan on cooking with it. Sesame oil is not suitable for high heat, so it’s best used if you’re planning on sprinkling the oil on top of already cooked food (stir fry, maybe? Or fried rice?). Coconut oil can be used over relatively high heat, and has little flavor, so it might be a decent choice as well. Whole Foods Market has a good rundown of oils on their website, you might wanna take a peek.

All I did to make this oil was:

  1. First, I found a bottle to use. I bought this little bottle at Michael’s for like $1.20, but you can find ones like it just about anywhere, or you can use a jar.
  2. Then I heated a 1/4 cup of oil over low heat. I used corn oil myself. Once it was hot but (not scaldingly so), I added a whole dried chili & 1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes, and then I let the chile get hot. I did NOT let it cook! I just heated it enough to release the oils & flavor.
  3. I removed it from heat & let it cool to room temperature. Then, using tongs, I put the whole chili in the bottle. I poured the chili oil over it, then poured more fresh oil in to fill the bottle, and then I let it sit in a cool, dark place for one week before using. The longer it sits, the hotter/more flavorful it gets.

Obviously, you can add more chilies if you’re using a larger container. And you’d use more oil, as well. Experimentation is the name of the game!

How to make an easy chili oil.

Here today, tarragon tomorrow.

Homemade tarragon vinegar.

Some recipes aren’t really even recipes. I mean, if something has two ingredients & requires little more than bruising some herb leaves, heating up some vinegar & then just combining the two… how can that even be a recipe? It’s more like an instructional, or a how-to, or a guideline. Not really a recipe, though. For blogging purposes we’ll call it a recipe, but between the two of us it really isn’t, now is it?

Either way- it’s worth reading this. You’ll get something out of it, I promise. Plus, I’ve been bombarding you with berries & baked goods, so let’s switch gears.

See, I have this lovely mortar & pestle. And I rarely use it; most of the time I crumble dried herbs in my fingers or tear fresh ones if needed. But every now & then something comes along that calls for this pretty little old fashioned bowl & club grinder. When that happens I must use it, even if it’s for just a few tarragon leaves.

Le Creuset mortar & pestle used for bruising tarragon leaves for use in an easy homemade tarragon vinegar.

It’s really quite simple. I had some fresh tarragon here, looking sad & lonely. Left over from those pickles. It had to be put to use before it was no longer good (oh fresh-cut herbs, you & your tiny little lifespan). After making two quarts of pickles I wasn’t sure what else I could do with the tarragon before it wilted completely. Hence the title of this post. Get it? GET IT?

Using a mortar & pestle always makes me feel very witchy, or Harry Potter-ish.

How to make homemade tarragon vinegar.

And I always forget about infusing olive oil or vinegar with herbs. Why? No clue. It’s a fantastic idea. So I made some. I mean, Heinz sells bottles of this stuff. SELLS IT. For money. I can make it for nothing! Or close to it, seeing as how the tarragon costs nothing if you grow it, and I always have white wine vinegar on hand. I decided to do some research on it and I found the following little snippet. Turns out, tarragon is a bit more valuable than I had thought:

These days, tarragon is more commonly used as a kitchen herb, but it actually has a long history as a medicinal plant, and that tradition has a good scientific basis. For starters, tarragon can improve digestion by increasing the secretion of bile and acids into the stomach. It also helps to whet the appetite. Further, research has shown that tarragon extract may help in managing diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, and it may also kill ulcer-causing bacteria. Finally, the herb contains a chemical called caffeic acid, which works as an antiviral agent and also helps rid the body of damaging free radicals that can lead to cancer.

-source

All that & tasty too? Awesome. Now I really can’t let any go to waste, so herb-infused vinegar it is. And it’s a very, very easy process:

  1. I bruised some tarragon sprigs that were washed & patted dry: leaves, stems & all, in my mortar & pestle. Just lightly, to release some of the essence & aromatic oils, not to totally decimate it.
  2. I scooped it out and put it into a glass bottle. A glass bottle that once housed illy Italian iced coffee, by the way, so SAVE ALL YOUR GLASS JARS & BOTTLES- you never know when they might come in handy.
  3. I heated up about a cup/cup & a half of white wine vinegar just until warm and poured it over the tarragon into the bottle. I closed the lid once it cooled to room temperature, and set it aside.

Homemade tarragon vinegar.

Easy peasy.

And then… I let it sit for two weeks before using (which actually I haven’t gotten around to yet) in a cool, dark & dry place. That’s it. It’s ready for use in béarnaise sauce, salad dressings, to toss steamed veggies or potatoes in or for use in potato salad, or to have with chicken or broiled fish (those particular recipes are favorites with the fam). All that from one little bottle.

Oh, I forgot to mention I labeled it, too.

How to make homemade tarragon vinegar for salad dressings, etc.Label from Sur la Table

Now, the amount of tarragon you use will vary from person to person. If you want a stronger vinegar, then add the amount that I added, which you can see is quite a bit. If you want a more delicate flavor, add less. You can use dried tarragon as well- roughly 1/4 teaspoon per cup of vinegar. White wine vinegar, that is, not regular. Regular vinegar could be used, but the flavor of wine vinegars are better suited for dressings. However last summer I did make chive blossom vinegar using plain ol’ regular white vinegar. I’m sure also that a very strong herb such as basil could be used to infuse red wine vinegar, but I can’t say for sure. Try it… what’s the worst that can happen? You waste a 1/2 cup or a cup of it on a not-so-great-tasting experiment?

I assume this can be done with any and all herbs, so if you dislike this choice of herb, try another. And of course you can infuse oils as well. Rosemary is a great choice for olive oil, so is oregano. Use your imagination.

How to make your own tarragon vinegar (or any herb-infused vinegar).

Leftover blackberry honey syrup.

Don’t you love when you’re reading an old book & the author wrote it as ‘sirop’? It’s so old timey or foreign. I know sirop is the French way of spelling syrup, but it seems that a lot of books written in the 1700’s or 1800’s write it that way, too. Makes sense since it comes from the Latin ‘siropus.’ But anything written in another language (or in an old way) is more attractive. Like, for example, this recipe would be ‘Sirop de mûres e miel’ in French. So lovely.

Are you tired of my history of language lesson yet?

Blackberries always intrigued me. I’m not a fan of the flavor of berries, let’s just get that out in the open right now. I can tolerate strawberries, but I’m not a huge fan by any means. I’m a big apple girl (both figuratively & literally- I  NY, too) and I love citrus. Berries? Nah. Not for me. But regardless, I love looking at them, touching them, cooking with them. I come from a family of berry fiends… which is good, because I get to satisfy my curiosity without wasting food. I didn’t grow up near a blackberry bramble. There are no wild berries growing in my yard, however we did have a flowering crabapple tree. My berry encounters were not on a farm or in the wild country, but supermarkets & restaurants & as the flavoring in gum. Blue raspberry anything still makes me queasy to this day, by the way.

I came up with this idea because after finishing that blackberry whateveryouwannacallit thing I made, I had some blackberries left over. Not enough to make into a jam, really, unless I made about 4 ounces, and that’s not really worth the trouble. It was pretty much a decent-sized handful of big, juicy berries. And blackberries don’t last long, as you probably know. So I figured I’d make them into a syrup using some honey.

Waste not, want not.

I didn’t use a recipe, so I honestly have no idea what measurements to tell you to use. You aren’t going to be canning this; it’s just for immediate use or storage in the refrigerator, so there’s no concern about adding acidity or the amount of sugar, etc. The more honey you add, the more syrup you’ll get. The more berries you add, the more syrup you’ll get. I made it about even, which gives a stronger berry flavor. If you have more honey than berry, the flavor will be more honey & vice versa. You get the idea.

You can use it for pancakes/waffles, you can stir a little bit into some lemonade & toss in some whole berries for a nice summer drink or use it as the base for a cocktail. I’m sure a lighter bourbon like Basil Hayden’s would be interesting mixed with a bit of this. Also, use it as a salad dressing base: mix it with a little red wine vinegar & olive oil, you’ve got yourself a blackberry honey vinaigrette. Even better, mix it with some blackberry vinegar, if you’ve got it.

Keeping all that in mind, this is what I did:

  • I rinsed off & dried the berries. Only do this right before using them, or else you’ll end up with moldy fruit.
  • I put the clean fruit into a medium saucepan and mashed them with a fork. It’s not necessary to make sure they’re completely smooshed- just enough to release a bit of juice.
  • I added about a half cup of honey (more is fine), and turned on the heat to medium-low, stirring with a wooden spoon so nothing scorches.
  • Keep stirring and gently mashing the berries, incorporating them with the honey. The mixture should be a reddish color now. Keep cooking & stirring.
  • Cook, stirring pretty frequently, until it’s reduced & thickened slightly, and it’s a dark, foamy syrup with little round berry bits & guts in it. Don’t worry, you’re straining that out.
  • Add a dash of pure vanilla extract and stir well. Almond extract works too, but nothing at all is fine. The blackberry honey flavor is enough!
  • Clean a jar, put it on a tea towel on your counter or table and place a strainer over the top. Depending on the amount of berries/honey you’re using, you might need a pint jar. Pour the mixture into the strainer little by little, pressing down with a rubber spatula to extract more syrup. When all the syrup is out of it, scoop it into the garbage and pour more of the mixture in, then repeat.
  • Once you’re finished, place a lid on the jar and let it cool. Once cooled, refrigerate or use immediately.

It’s insanely simple, and it makes use of even the smallest amount of leftover blackberries. I’m pretty sure it would work with blueberries or raspberries as well.

Also? It’s pretty.

Leftover blackberry honey syrup

Spice up your life!

In just a few short days, February will have arrived. The winter is far from over, of course, but with February comes the new onslaught of holidays: Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, etc, etc, etc. Before you know it, websites & blogs will be proclaiming “SPRING!” while you look out your window & see 2 feet of snow or frost-covered cars.

Not me, however.

I am fully aware that there’s a lot of winter left to go, and that you need some warming up. As do I. So on this, my last post of January, I present you with the following: spice-infused milk.

It’s a goddamn revelation, I tell you. It’s the easiest thing in the world, and I’m sorry I never thought of it before. It’s genius. Leave it to Martha to come up with something so stupidly simple it makes you feel positively soft in the head for not thinking of it yourself. It’s basically the same concept behind flavored coffee creamers. Duuuuh.

Last week when I went to Mystic, CT, in a little shop called the Franklin General Store I found Dave’s Coffee Syrup. It’s basically an all-natural, preservative free version of Coffee Time syrup. The ingredients are simply cold brewed coffee & cane sugar; no high-fructose corn syrup or coffee flavor. It’s typically used to make “coffee milk”; a Rhode Island tradition, but there’s a tag on the label that encourages you to get creative with it. I bought the regular coffee syrup, Jay got the Madagascar vanilla coffee syrup. I decided that I wanted to use my infused milk with my new coffee syrup… and so I did. But first I tried it with a regular coffee.


SPICE-INFUSED MILK (via Martha Stewart Living, Dec. 2012)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • Spices of your choice; i.e. star anise, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, freshly grated ginger, vanilla, cloves, etc (see below for recipe ideas)
  • 16-oz. jar for storage

Directions:

  1. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan with the spices you choose, stirring just once or twice. Heat JUST UNTIL STEAMING.
  2. Cover pan and let the spices steep in the milk for 1 hour.
  3. Strain and reheat if necessary, or refrigerate in a jar (up to 3 days). Reheat gently before serving.

There are tons of ideas & possibilities here, and not just for coffee! For example:

OATMEAL: Infuse 2 cups milk with 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1 cinnamon stick or the pod & seeds of half a vanilla bean. Add to oatmeal.

SWEDISH COFFEE: Steep 18 lightly crushed cardamom pods in 2 cups whole milk, add to coffee. Alternately or in conjunction, you can use 1 cinnamon stick or freshly grated nutmeg.

MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE: For a spicy Mexican-inspired cocoa, infuse 2 cups whole milk with 1 or 2 dried chiles (smoky chipotles or anchos), 1 cinnamon stick and the pod & seeds of 1 vanilla bean. Mix with cocoa.

INDIAN: Use 10 cardamom pods, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1 star anise petal and 1 cinnamon stick. Use with coffee or cocoa. This is also good over muesli or with oatmeal.

GROWN UP MILK PUNCH: Mix milk with 2 tablespoons caramel, 3 teaspoons maple syrup, half a vanilla bean (scraped), 2 pinches ground cinnamon. Cook as directed, let cool. Once cooled, mix with 2 shots of brandy in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain before serving.

I made Swedish coffee milk, but I added half of a vanilla bean & a cinnamon stick to the cardamom. So maybe that wasn’t really a Swedish coffee, but I don’t care. It was delicious. I highly recommend it. Do whatever you want! Add whatever spices you like! Chiles, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, vanilla bean, Chinese 5-spice, etc. Go nuts.

And of course, what’s a Swedish coffee without a Swedish book?

Chai concentrating.

Pinterest has taken over everyone’s life lately. It seems as if everyone is either making something they found on Pinterest or talking about something they found on Pinterest. And I’m no different. My Pinterest page is filled with amazing things; some of which I’ve made, some of which I’ll never make, and most of which I just gush about. I even wrote about it at textdrivebys.com twice…

This chai concentrate from Tasty Yummies is one of the ones I’ve actually both pinned and made.

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November is doing it’s best to get fully settled in. It’s been very, very cold, and as a matter of fact in addition to hurricane Sandy hammering us last week, tomorrow we’re getting a Nor’easter! Gusty winds, heavy rains and even snow in some places. So it’s time for warm drinks & spicy flavors. Hot cider, hot chocolate, hot tea. One chilly Sunday I was browsing Pinterest, looking at things I had been pinning for something interesting to create, and I noticed this chai concentrate that I had pinned way back in August. As soon as I saw the stunning photo of it in a Mason jar (how could I turn away!?) I pinned it. I’m not a massive chai person, but I do enjoy it every now & then. And it’s worth it to me to try a homemade version because I really never buy it when I’m out. I usually prefer a coffee. So when I do have chai, it’s at home. And I love some pre-made brands, and some tea companies versions of it. But sometimes it’s just not the same.

The history of chai is quite a rich one, despite most people only knowing it from it’s existence in lattes at Starbucks.

Masala chai (literally “mixed-spice tea”) is a beverage from India made by brewing tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs.

Plain chai

By itself, chai or cha is merely the generic word for “tea” in many European and Asian languages. The widespread form chai comes from Persian چای chay. Street vendors called “chai wallahs” (sometimes spelled “chaiwalas”) are a common sight, although coffee is a more popular beverage in some southern parts of India. Chai is also a popular item in restaurants known as Irani cafés or the genre of South Asian restaurants known as Chai Khanas or Ghahve Khane.

Spiced tea

For many English speakers, the term “chai” is synonymous with masala chai, as further described below. The redundant chai tea is sometimes used to indicate spiced milk tea as distinct from other types of tea. Numerous coffee houses use the term chai latte for their version to indicate that the steamed milk of a normal latte is being flavored with a spiced tea concentrate instead of with espresso, without necessarily implying the addition of coffee. Some coffeehouses and brand names refer to their product as chai tea latte.

The beverage is locally known as Chai karak in the Middle East.

And might I add… DELICIOUS. And this homemade concentrate is also easy. Cheap, too. But at the same time it’s quick- it takes no time at all, and it makes your house smell absolutely amazing. The smell alone is worth it! Just like the homemade pumpkin spice latte mix I posted about last month, if you’re a chai lover who buys a lot of chai lattes, this could totally save you some money.

HOMEMADE CHAI CONCENTRATE (adapted minimally from Tasty Yummies)

Yields: 1 batch of concentrate, approximately 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 8 bags black tea – I used PG tips
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 1/3 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

  1. Add the water and sugar to a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and put in the tea bags, cheesecloth pouch and cinnamon sticks. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat strain the concentrate through a sieve, separating the large pieces (tea begs/cinnamon sticks/cardamom pods/anise/cloves/etc) from the mix. At this point, add your vanilla extract & honey. Stir to combine.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into an airtight jar or container. This amount fits perfectly into a 1-quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

To use it, mix one part concentrate with one part milk or milk-like product of your choice. Heat the concentrate for a hot version, pour over ice for a cold version.

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I used ground cardamom & ground ginger, I had fresh ginger but it was frozen & I didn’t feel like defrosting it so I could cut it (it’s a pretty large hunk, and yes I freeze my extra ginger). I didn’t have any cardamom pods but I had a large jar of it ground, so I opted to substitute that. Also, the original recipe called for a whole vanilla bean, coconut sugar & raw honey- I only had regular sugar, brown sugar, a small amount of German rock sugar (for my tea) & sugar cubes myself, so I made an executive decision. If you want to use another kind of sugar, go right ahead, but you might want to read what she says her results were first. My honey wasn’t raw either, but I don’t think that makes much of a difference taste-wise. All of my vanilla beans were being made into homemade vanilla extract at the time, so I had to use some vanilla extract instead. If you like a spicier chai, add more peppercorns. If you like a sweeter chai, add more sugar. Likewise… if you prefer a less sweet chai then just use less sugar/honey. What you use in it is totally up to you. And as a matter of fact, this mix makes a nice hostess gift, too. Tie some raffia around the top with some cinnamon sticks & handwritten instructions, and you’re good to go. And if you know someone who was in the path of Hurricane Sandy who has no power but still has a gas stove to heat it up with, maybe bring them some, along with some food.

As for me? I’ll be drinking some later tonight watching the 2012 Presidential election returns. Make sure you registered U.S. voters get out there today & do your duty! It’s a privilege to be able to push that little lever or fill in that circle on paper, so get your lazy, apathetic asses out there. And to everyone who already voted; good for you. It’s not even 8 a.m. & you’ve already made more of a difference than most people will all day. And if you’re one of those people affected by Sandy, you can still vote. Download a mail-in ballot or call your local elected officials to find out where to go to vote in New Jersey, or if you’re in NY you can click here & find out where to go (and in turn pass it on!). I know you’re all dealing with so many other things, but voting is going to continue; no matter what election day will not be suspended. And it’s so important to get your vote in. So please, try and get as many folks as you can to the polls today.

And if you remain unaffected, if you’re safe, warm & dry today, and you know where you’ll be voting & that you’ll be coming home afterwards… then especially be thankful for that.

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