infusion


Picked up our free turkey at Ingles last week. The grocery store runs a promotion every holiday season – buy a certain amount over a certain period of time and you get the bird.  I guess the intention is for you to serve this at a holiday meal, but I like turkey so I cooked it. I used a method described in the latest issue of Saveur. Very simple oven roasting. Great result. Also made some stock that I will save for Thanksgiving gravy.

This time of year is a boon for food fans. I think I’ve picked up and gone through a half dozen holiday issues of different cooking and food magazines. Saveur gets a mention because they have good recipes and travel articles that aren’t overwhelmed by the advertising. Cranberries came up in about all of these. Cranberries are something I’ve always wanted to like but seem to pass on each year when I’m fixing my plate. I think it’s the texture, because I like the smell. They are uniquely American and may have been served at the first Thanksgiving. I wanted to get them into the meal some way so into the vodka they went.

Cranberry infused vodka isn’t a new idea. They are several recipes out there for making it. Most include sugar to make a liqueur. I tend to like things dry so I will have a better base to add things in to. I looked at several cranbery sauce recipes as I considered how to make my vodka. Oranges seem to get added in often. They was also the question of cooking the berries or not. I thought cooking would make it easier to extract the flavors. As you cook cranberries they thicken on there own into a sauce.  I assume that the pectin in the berries is the cause. One risk of infusing a cooked sauce might be another gelled mass like I got with the fig infusion.

Here’s what I’m trying:

Cranberry Orange Infused Vodka

  • 16 oz fresh cranberries
  • zest of 3 oranges
  • 75 cl 40 proof vodka

Cook 12 oz of the berries in a small amount of water until most of them pop, about 4 minutes. Cool, then add all ingredients to the vodka.

It’s been sitting for a week now, getting stirred every day to make sure it doesn’t gel. The smell is great. I will strain before Thanksgiving so it will be ready to serve. I’m thinking of combining it with a little apricot brandy and lemon juice, or maybe some creme de cassis. If it works out, I might try infusing some gin or rum. Watch for follow up -

 

Here’s the follow-up (Nov 22) – I’ve been stirring every day and today it seemed right. Great bright red color and good aroma off the liquid. I strained through a large colander, then into a bottle through a smaller mesh sieve. Rather then deal with the hassleof running it through cheese cloth, I am going to try and let it settle for a few days and then decant of the sediment.

 

Several observations for the next batch: First, the whole cranberries looked exactly like they did when I started. They spent their week and half floating on the vodka, whick I suppose is what cranberries do. The popped berries looked washed out. I take this to mean that the whole ones contributed nothing and could be skipped. Next time I’ll use only 12 oz of fresh berries and cook them all until pooped. Second, the left over fruit pulp makes a not too bad sauce. Add a little water, some sugar to taste and a few fresh berries and simmer for 5 minutes or so. The flavor isn’t terribly strong (a lot of it is in the vodka) but it is still enjoyable. Third, I ended up with a little more volume than I started with. Yeah.

Took some of the extra hour from last night’s shift of Daylight Savings to strain out my on-going infusions. One big surprise and a couple of nice treats. Started with the Fig infused vodka. Something completely unexpected happened – it had gelled. The fruit and vodka looked like a jello salad as I got it out of the container. I suppose pectin from the fruit did it.

I ran it through the mesh strainer, then twice through cheese cloth to get back to a liquid. Ended up losing over half of the original volume, 300 ml after starting with 750. The aroma and flavor are very earthy and dominated by the vanilla. Added 30 ml (1 oz) of 2:1 simple syrup to try and make something more palatable. I’ll have to think hard to come up with a use for this one. Skip the vanilla bean next time.

Now for the two pleasant surprises. About the time I set up the fig infusion, I also collect some wild bunch grapes. I see the vines all around our area. They appear to be dioecious (ie, males and females) so you need a fruit bearing female vine for grapes. You also need to find one with fruit you can get to. They grow up trees and seem to get quite high up. I found a couple with fruit I could reach near our neighborhood and one on the main north-south road in town. I checked the vines every few days and tried to get to them  when the fruit was ripe. The bunches ripen unevenly and then are only ripe for a few days before they start to wither. It made it tough to get much fruit. The berries are small and have to be removed from the bunch one grape at a time to seperate ripe ones from the green ones. They are very acidic and have very little sugar. Plus, they have a strong green vegetal aroma. Not unpleasant, just not grape-like. I didn’t hold out much hope for a palatable result, but went ahead and set up an infusion.

The photo shows what I got after two early morning runs to gather what I could from the vine near the busy street. The berries on these were a little larger than the ones near our house. The clusters also seemed to be more evenly ripe than the ones near us. I just got a few odd looks while I set up my step stool on the sidewalk and tried to get all the clusters I could reach.

An aside – when I first saw these a few yeas ago, I really wanted to make wine out of them. One taste of the grape stopped that idea. We have several species of native grapes in this country. The best example of wine made from one variety can be had from Valiant Vineyards. The next best option is to track down a wine made from the Norton (also called the Cynthiana) grape, preferably from Missouri or Virginia.

Back to the topic at hand. I coverd the berries with 80 proof vodka and let them sit for six weeks. The final product is pitch black. It still has the green/vegetal aroma of the original fruit but it seems to have toned down. 

This was strained through wire mesh then cheese cloth. The final product has the strong vegetal aroma, the palate has a nice grape character and a hint of sweetness. It’s a tooth stainer. I had planned to add some simple syrup to help mask any off flavors, but it turns out it didn’t need it.

The final pleasant surprise was the spiced rum. This was a fairly straight foward item to process. Not much sediment. It has a rich brown color, with nutmeg scent on the nose and a little bite of cinnamon on the palate. The vanilla isn’t as noticable as it is in the fig infusion. This one’s a keeper. It should be a great base for Mai Tais, Egg Nogs or other seasonal drinks. We did a side to side tasting with Appleton Estate V/X and prefered the home brew. Cost: $18 for the Appleton’s, around $14 for the home brew (Bacardi used as the base)

Spiced Rum

  • 75 cl bottle of white rum
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 1 nutmeg pod, broken
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

Steep for 1-2 weeks, strain and bottle.

Addendum – Came back to this tonight (Nov 30). I had some extra lime juice from the weekend that I hated to waste-

Spiced Rum Daiquiri

  • 1-1/2 oz spiced rum
  • 1/2 Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz Orgeat
  • 3/4 oz lime juice

Shake and strain. Not bad. You get the vanilla and nutmeg on the nose. The nutmeg gives is a slight bubble-gummy-root-beer taste. That observation lead to a Cinnamom Daiquiri, substituting Goldschläger for the Cointreau, and adding a few dashes of orange bitters. The cinnamon is quite obvious now, but the effect was more harsh. Stick with the recipe above.

Lots of discussion here lately on Halloween cocktails. I would bet that in most of the country it is, or has, surpassed St. Patrick’s Day as the holiday adults celebrate with a drink. It’s on a Friday this year (and a Saturday next year) so there’s the  opportunity to have one more before turning in. With my advancing age, volume consumed has long been surpassed in importance by quality of consumption. Every drink (or bite) taken entails a certain number of calories that have to be accounted for at some point. If I’m going to take them in, and work them off, they better be worth the effort. You know “Life’s too short to drink cheap wine,” and all that.

My goal for a Halloween drinks is to get some Halloween flavor into my companions. Using the Pumpkin flavored syrup is a quick and easy way to do it. The sugar in the syrup limits it usefulness though plus it’s pre-made. We’re all about homemade ingredients around here, so making our own pumpkin flavored items seemed to make sense. Remember, a drink is a vehicle for getting tastes into the drinker. Sugar blunts the taste and alcohol blunts the taster.  Making our own components allows better control over both. We’re no longer trying to knock out our date, she’s now our wife and one of us has to drive home.

I digress. An extraction, err ah, infusion is one way to get flavors out of something solid and into a drink. Infusing spirits seems to be all the rage now. That’s because it is easy and fun. There is lots of info on the the web that is free for the taking. A search on “Pumkin infusion” turned up two. This and that.

The first, taken from Sunset magazine, was interesting in that they used squash for the pumpkin flavoring and just a bit of it at that. The second, from a New York City bar, used raw pumpkin. Several follow up posting criticized it for tasting like, well, raw pumpkin, not the pumpkin pie flavor I guess was expected. Both of these have the usual pumpkin associated spices added in.

I turned up one more recipe in Infused by Susan Ella MacNeal. Not sure where I got this, but it looks to be $2 used on Amazon. Her recipe calls for 1 cup canned pumpkin, 1 vanilla bean, 2 cinnamon sticks and 15 to 20 cloves. These are infused in a bottle of the liquor of your choice for 1 month and strained when the flavor reaches the desired intensity. Couple of points here: first, again with the prepared food. This is only one step away from me using a pumpkin syrup. That’s a step I’m trying not to take again. Second, “any liquor” can be used. Good point. We saw that here with the peach liqueur, making a brandy and then a bourbon based version. I think rum and pumpkin would be complimentary.

Here’s what I came up with.

  • 16 oz of diced butternut squash – 8 oz roasted, 8 oz raw.
  • (This was one half of the squash)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 whole nutmeg, rough broken
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 75cl vodka

I set it up last week with the plan on steeping it for just over a week.

The most common recipe I find this used in calls for 3 parts pumpkin vodka, 1 part Amaretto.  If you shake it with ice, you’ll get some water to dilute it, but that still seems like a lot of alcohol.  This might be one where a little homemade grenadine is welcome. Have to experiment and get back to you.

The picture I posted also shows a larger jar with just the spices infusing. That was supposed to be my pumpkin infused rum. I picked up one of those small Pumpkin Pie Pumkins at Ingles, gutted and peeled it, then roasted it. When it was done it smelled terrible. I was sure I didn’t want that taste in a drink. The raw flesh didn’t smell so great either. So I just put the spices into the rum. I’ll figure out what to do with it later (Mai tai or Daiquiri, something along those lines).

My spices were purchased at a local organic grocery that sells them bulk. I can just by what I need, one vanilla bean, one nutmeg, etc. Also, I left out the cloves. There have a fairly distinctive flavor some people don’t enjoy, Amateur Cocktail Gal included.

October 28 addendum:

 

I siphoned off some of the pumpkin vodka to try out. The aroma off the vodka is distinct but faint. Pretty pale orange color. After reading through some previous post I hit on the idea of a Pumpkin Cosmo, subtituting Amaretto for the Triple Sec and using the pumpkin vodka as the base. I cut back on the Amaretto so it wouldn’t over power the vodka flavoring.

  • 1 1/2 oz pumpkin vodka
  • 3/4 oz Amaretto
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • splash of pomegrante juice

Shake and strain.

Here’s what I got:

 Not bad, but the pumpkin flavor was vanishingly faint. The juice didn’t add much either and detracted from the orange color the drink might otherwise have had (the red got washed out a bit in my picture).

Next attempt – Grand Marnier in place of the Amaretto. Still a problem of losing the pumpkin flavor in the final mix. Probably ought to shelf this one for a while.

I’ve been meaning to write this posting for a while. About a month or so back we had a a sitter for the kids and a night out. This was the night we started at the Vault. After our experience at the Vault, I wanted a good drink and some people to watch. Our next stop was the Frog Bar at the Flying Frog Cafe. I had a great Sidecar there earlier this summer and have heard good things about the pear infused vodka.  Given my mood, I went for a Negroni. AC Gal ordered off the cocktail menu. They have a Cosmo varient made with Absolut Mandrin and Grand Marnier. You assume they are used in place of Absolut Citron and Cointreau that go into the original. Sounded good so she got one.

My Negroni hit the spot. The Cosmo variant was not so good. The orange aroma seemed artifical – like the flavor you get in an orange Fanta. I figured it was the Absolut vodka that was to blame. They mass produce the stuff, along with lord knows how many other “flavors.” You could safely assume each batch gets a squirt of the desired flavoring before it’s bottled and shipped. The idea behind the drink seemed reasonable, the selection of ingredients seemed to be what needed work.

With all the infusions I’ve done, an orange vodka seemed simple enough. Last spring I had made a Limoncello – lemon zest steeped in vodka for a long time, then sweetened with sugar syrup. Using proportions from that recipe, I zested one orange with a Microplane zester and added that to 375 ml of Gordon’s vodka. After two weeks I strained and had my orange vodka.

I had picked up half bottles of Absolut and Smirnoff orange flavored vodkas over the past few weeks. Before making drinks I set up a blind tasting of these for AC Gal.

I knew which one was in each glass and tried to be open minded as I tasted through them. The home made seemed the best to me. It tasted of fresh orange whereas the two commercial preparation tasted, well, commercial. The orange soda analogy came to mind again. AC Gal tasted blind. She picked the home made one as the best, saying that the Absolut tasted like orange candy. I think what we both noticed was a commercial orange flavoring at work.

This week’s How’s Your Drink column by Eric Felten is a tasting of drinks made from scratch and from a pre-made mix. He points out the problems from trying to preserve citrus flavors. Much of the flavor comes from volatile oils and terpenes that are altered during commercial preparation. I don’t know how the vodkas we tried are flavored, but the manufacturers must have found some way to get a consistent flavor profile from batch to batch. I can only imagine that soaking orange peels in the vodka would give an inconsistent result, so next best thing – one drop of orange flavoring per bottle.

A note on Grand Marnier before we start. David Embury summarizes well in the section on various liquors in the Fine Art of Mixing Drinks:

Grand Marnier (grawN marn-yay´) A dry, pungent, citrus liqueur—orange-flavored on a base of the finest grand champagne brandy. To me this is the absolute king of all liqueurs, excelling even Benedictine and Chartreuse. It lacks the antiquity of Goldwasser and Benedictine; it does not boast the religious parentage of Benedictine and Chartreuse; but for sheer excellence of flavor it is unsurpassed. It blends magnificently in all manner of cocktails, particularly of the Sour type. It is also superb in cooking, for all manner of dessert sauces, and, of course, it is an absolute “must” for crêpes suzette.

Well, on to the drink.

I took my Cosmo recipe from the Cocktail Database (who took it from Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology)

  • 1 1/2 oz citrus vodka
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • splash of cranberry juice for flavor

Shake and strain.

I made my Grand Marnier Cosmo by substituting GM for the triple sec and orange vodka for the citrus flavored.

Got a nice orange color in each. The Absolut Cosmo had the fake-orange aroma and taste. When I smelled the drink, I was transported back to the Frog Bar. It was the soda pop aroma that turned us both off on the drink. The orange is also much stronger in the commercial vodkas. We both enjoyed the home version more.

One thing about my drinks, even with almost a 1/2 ounce of cranberry juice added, I didn’t get the pink color that a Cosmo should probably have. I added a splash of Pomegranate juice. It gave a cool looking layered effect until I stirred it up and got a pale red.

So…for a bar that prides itself on it’s infused vodkas, I say: When the Absolut Madrian runs out, consider a simple orange infused vodka for this drink.

Our local Fresh Market grocery has a sale going on this weekend. I went in to pick up some things for lunch and saw that they had fresh figs for $5 a pound. That got me thinking. After lunch I poured all my remaining vodka together. I had 600 ml. Now, before all this started I had been think about putting some fruit trees in around our house. Figs could be tough to grow around  here, but I think I’ve identified two varieties that might make it (Brown Turkey and Hardy Chicago). Because of that, I’ve had figs on my mind. It seemed worth while to try an infusion and see if I liked the result. A little web searching suggested it wasn’t a terrible idea. There wasn’t much out there. Vanilla flavoring was recommended by a couple of people as a complementary flavor.

I headed to Greenlife for a vanilla bean (good selection of bulk spices). Figs were a little over $5 a half pound here, so the sale price turned out to be pretty good. One more stop at Fresh Market to get the figs. I tried to pick ones that were ripe and squishy. It was a little challenging because at both stores they are packaged in 8 oz plastic containers. I also needed a little more vodka, so I picked one of those small 200 ml hip flasks at the ABC Store. With ingredients in hand, I assembled my mix:

  • 1 lb of figs
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 75cl of 80 proof vodka

Clean and stem figs, slice into quarters or small. Add figs to vodka. Split vanilla bean, scrap out seeds then add asseds and bean to the vodka.

 All of this was done yesterday. By today the vodka had extracted most of the purple pigment from the figs. The vanilla aroma is quite obvious, but the vodka also has an earthy undertone from the figs. I’ll let it go a few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My web searching turned up something marginally related – a great guide to making your own vanilla extract. It’s just an infused vodka: http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Vanilla-Extraction/

It’s a little past six weeks now from when the wild picked blackberries went into there respective alcohol baths. The start of the saga is here. I strained the infused vodka and the blackberry cassis today. There wasn’t too much sediment. One pass through a double layer of cheesecloth got the little that there was. It worked great and took just a few minutes, not the hours that the coffee filter treatment seems to take.

What a treat. Beautiful rich color in the liquid with a strong, true blackberry aroma and mild taste. I continued to follow the recipe for the cassis, adding sugar syrup to the liquor. We compared it to some true French (Dijon) black currant cassis I had opened a few weeks back. It was a favorable comparison.

The creme de cassis is on the left. It is darker in color and wasn’t quite as alcoholic. Amateur Cocktail Gal picked up on that.  I used 100 proof vodka for my infusion and added a fairly concentrated sugar syrup. I suspect the final alcohol level is around 30-35% for the blackberry. The flavor of the blackberry liqueur was also a little less intense. Very enjoyable though because it is a more familiar, local flavor.

I made a half recipe from what the original called for. That gave me one and half wine bottle’s worth which should be plenty. If not, we’ve got around 5 pounds of berries in the freezer to tide us over to next July.

I’d been turning the Beet infused vodka thing over in my head a week or so ago. What vegetal flavor would compliment some of the drinks I like? I’m not sure exactly when it came to me, but Celery Root struck me as a pleasant flavor that might work. Cucumber vodka seems to be the rage now. But man, that is subtle. Why not celery? Adding celery root to mashed potatoes gives an enjoyable, earthy, complimentary flavor to the potatoes. I also like parboiled, shredded celery root as part of a salad.

My local organic grocery store keeps a good selection of this kind of thing so I headed out. Lucy Brennan’s Beet Infused Vodka recipe seemed like a good model to follow for my root vegetable of choice. I make the beet vodka in half batches – 12 oz of peeled, diced beets in 500 cc of vodka. I followed that for the celery root.

After three days, I strained (mesh sieve then coffee filter) and bottled. The vodka had taken on a light brown tinge. It also had a wonderful celery aroma. After a day in the refrigerator, I noticed a cloudy percipitate in the bottom of the bottle. I assumed it was some protein molecules, or maybe something like tartaric acid in wine. I’ve been decanting around it, but suppose I could run it through a coffee filter again and get rid of it.

I’ve only tried it in one drink, but think I may have found a home for it. I played a little with the proportions, but haven’t noticed a big difference in the resulting drinks:

Celery Root Infused Vodka and Tonic

  • 1 1/2 oz celery root infused vodka (you could go to 2 oz)
  • 1 oz citrus juice
  • 1/2 oz 2:1 simpe syrup (3/4 to 1 oz 1:1)
  • 4 – 5 oz tonic water.

Build over ice in a rocks glass, stir.

Very nice. Some mild vegetale taste without the force gin would bring to the drink. It would be fun to find another vegetable or herb flavor to add to the infusion that would compliment the celery. Chartruese maybe?

I’ll have to study on that.

The latest experiment was prompted by a couple of recent visits to South Carolina. If you grew up there, you know that July is peach season. Peach cobbler, peach ice cream, cut up peaches for breakfast. With my current focus, peach liqueur seemed like a good idea. A little searching turned up this recipe. The proportions seemed right. I wanted a little more final volume, so I used 2 and 1/2 pounds of peaches and three cups of liqour all together. We made another trip down this past weekend. More peaches so one more batch. This time I used Bourbon instead of brandy (actually used Cognac instead of brandy because I had some of the former). One other tweek to the recipe: I used 2/3 cup of fructose dissolved in a cup of water instead of the full cup of sucrose called for. It makes sense to me to use fruit sugar for a fruit liqueur. Fructose has greater sweetness per measure than sucrose, so I cut down the amount a bit. If the final product is not sweet enough I’ll add some Agave syrup or honey.

Tonight I strained the first batch and started the second. Here’s the result:

Couple more weeks and I’ll have a tasting of Cognac-Peach Liqueur vs. Bourbon-Peach Liqueur. I’ll have to dig through some old Southern Comfort recipe guides to come up with a cocktail recipe or two.

There was an emphasis on “Amateur” around here last week. I was pushing the envelop a bit with some drinks I made up. First I used some Passion Fruit drink picked up in Atlanta as a substitue for OJ to mix with Campari. Not terrible, but it was Passion Fruit “drink” not juice. That means it was only 25% juice and a little watery. I then came up with three bad ones in a row.

The Beet Infused vodka was pressed into service for a Gimlet. Something not good happens when the preserved lime juice meets the beet flavor. I got a kind of metallic edged liquid that was not appealing. Down the drain with that one. Next came a Tarragon infused gin Gimlet. Same bad result. I had put some work into the Tarragon gin. I wanted to like it. Next I tried it in a Collins with the Tarragon soda. Equally bad. No pictures for these – not worth remembering. I gave up and had a beer.

I have stained out the beet infused gin and beet infused Tequila. Based on the smell, and my lack of success straying from tried and true recipes, those two are stored away in the fridge for now.

The credit for this mix goes to Lucy Brenenan. I first saw this idea in her Hip Sips book of cocktail recipes. The idea came to her while eating a beet salad. She uses it as a base for a vodka sour called “The Ruby.” From that name you know she is using red beets. Her bar apparently goes through 10 bottles a week of the stuff. The recipe is here and here. She uses a 1:1 simple syrup per Hip Sips.

Lately I’ve been on a tear with golden beets. They showed up in our local markets a few months ago. They looked interesting so I brought some home and roasted them. The earthy flavor with a little sweetness is very enjoyable. I never would have thought to put them in a drink, but once I read about it, I was ready to try. Using golden beets would be my contribution.

The recipe calls for 1 ½ pounds of beets to 1 liter of vodka, infused for three days, “no more or less.” The liter measure makes it very scalable. For my first attempt, I thought I had enough beets. After peeling and dicing, the beets weighed in at 14 oz. That’s 58% of the 24 oz called for in the recipe, so I mixed my batch with 580 cc of vodka. I used some Tito’s that was sitting around. (Don’t get me started on the virtues of one vodka over another)

The vodka takes on the color of the beets fairly quickly. You get a beautiful colored vodka. I strained them out at three days. The aroma is striking. You really smell the beets. Amateur Cocktail Gal used the word “earthy” to describe it without any prompting. That word comes up a lot when people talk about beets.

We started off mixing up some sours using my standard recipe: 2 oz base liquor, 1 oz citrus juice, ½ oz 2:1 simple syrup. This cuts back a bit on the 3 oz of vodka called for in the original Ruby recipe. It was good, but the lime was a tad too prominent. Better to go with the whole 3 oz pour. The drink color is beautiful, and it seemed to hold a frothy head from shaking longer than other drinks I’ve made. I’ll keep the gemstone theme and call it a Citrine

Getting creative, I substituted ½ oz of Cherry Heering (I had some open) for the simple syrup. Good, but needs a whole ounce next go round to bring the cherry flavor up a bit more.

Final trial was to substitute a ½ oz of crème de cassis for the simple syrup. Cassis has an earthiness of it’s own that I thought would compliment the beets. This one was a keeper. The main disadvantage though was the final color. It was muddy. Appropriate for a drink based on earthy flavors, but it would probably have looked better in a red beet infused vodka. BTW this would be called a Vodka Cassis, one of a series of drinks that mix base spirit, citrus and cassis. (That from the Cocktail Database). I suppose you could also use a vintage, LBV or ruby port in place of the cassis.

Initial assessment: Neat idea, beautiful color in the vodka and pleasant flavor. Drinks made with it should highlight the color and the beet flavor. A simple stirred martini with dry vermouth with maybe a dash or two of an herbal bitter is the next mix to try. Or, maybe a Gimlet or Vesper variant…

What next? I have two more small batches going – one using silver tequila and the other one using gin as the base. “Earthy” can describe Tequila so that seemed like a match. The herb flavorings in the gin have the potential to marry with the beet. We’ll see. Also, chioggia beets showed up at our local market. Might be worth a try.

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