Infusing spirits at home is easy, and there’s no time more perfect to snuggle up with a spicy, handcrafted cocktail than on a moonlit winter night. The art of mixology is inspiring bartenders and boozehounds everywhere to create original sipping concoctions or to revive old classics. But you don’t need to stock the cabinet with a fortune’s worth of pretty liquor bottles to enjoy these delights. Infusing your own spirits at home is an easy way to build ingredients for your home bar and allows you to dream up customized flavors. You only need a few staples, some glass jars and whole dried herbs to make your own vodka with full-bodied flavor and more.
The basics for a versatile infusion-ready bar include vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, brandy and tequila. Any of these liquors can be transformed with herbs. Since you’ll be drinking infusions for pleasure, be sure to start with high quality spirits. They don’t have to be top shelf, but after that first taste you’ll really appreciate spending a few extra dollars on the good stuff. Please, no plastic bottles!
The basics for a versatile infusion-ready bar include vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, brandy and tequila.
As a general guideline, I like to experiment with small batches first. Making pints is a great way to test flavor development without using an entire bottle. Spoon one teaspoon to two tablespoons of your herb or herb mixture into a glass pint jar and top with the liquor of your choice. The amount of herb to add will depend on which plant parts you choose and their aromatic strength. You can always add more, so it’s smart to go light at first. Label the jar with the herbs used, the measurement, liquor type, and date. Shake the infusion every day for a week and taste test on day 7 to gauge flavor intensity.
You’ll have some choices to make at this point. If the flavor is too light, you can add another tablespoon of herb and allow the infusion to go another week, or you can just give the flavors another week or two to develop before adding more herbs. After a month, the alcohol will have extracted about as much flavor from the herbs as it can. Keep tasting throughout the infusion time and strain out the herbs when the spirit has the flavor you desire.
Here are a few of my favorite combinations, but let your imagination fly free when formulating. I love to make gift sets that include a variety of infusions in 2-ounce bottles with handwritten labels and cocktail recipes. Unique, delicious, and always a big hit!
Chai Spiced Rum
• 1 pint of gold rum
• 2 tablespoons Firefly Chai
Roasted Cacao and Vanilla Bean Brandy
• 1 pint of brandy
• 1 tablespoon roasted cacao nibs
• 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Smoked Peppercorn Vodka
• 1 pint of vodka
• 2 tablespoons smoked black peppercorns
• 1 pint gin
• 1 teaspoon lavender flowers
Erin is the Communications Manager at Mountain Rose Herbs and an apprenticing herbalist at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies, where she botanizes and wildcrafts medicinal plants in the magnificent Oregon Cascades.
Dhaniya, more commonly known as cilantro, is a very popular garnish in Chinese, Mexican and Indian cooking. Versatile and pungent, this culinary herb can temper the spice of sauces, salsas and dips. Use it in this green, gluten-free chutney dip. Chutney is like the Indian salsa, and makes a great accompaniment with many snacks and meals. Whip up this gluten-free dip for guests who can handle the spice, and serve with Mary’s Gone Crackers Curry Pretzels or another one of your favorite gluten-free crackers or pretzels. Alternatively, you can use this dip as a spread for sandwiches.
This recipe comes courtesy Mary’s Gone Crackers.
Dhaniya Chutney Recipe
• 1 bunch fresh cilantro
• 1/2 bunch fresh mint
• 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
• 1/4 cup chopped almonds
• 3 small, fresh hot chilies (such as jalapeño or serrano), stemmed and seeded
• 1 large clove garlic
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• 1/4 cup water
• Salt, to taste
Place all ingredients in a high power blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. If too thick, add more water.
Mary’s Gone Crackers is committed to manufacturing the best-tasting, wheat-free and gluten-free baked goods using the highest quality, organically grown ingredients.
My garden has been kale-and-collard happy all winter long. Thanks to this constant green bounty in my backyard, I have become quite the kale chip aficionado. These days, I can harvest a bundle of fresh kale and bake up a batch in no time. I eat kale chips for dinner, afternoon snacks, take them on camping trips, and pack them along when traveling. There’s just something so surprisingly satisfying about their salty crunch. Maybe it’s freedom from potato chip guilt (drooool) that makes them extra wonderful. Delicious and nutritious – what a miracle!
So, when my prickly patch of nettles (Urtica dioica) started to peek out from the garden a few weeks ago, inspiration struck…nettle chips!
Nettles seem to have this effect on me every year. Last spring, it was Nettle Garlic Buttermilk Biscuits. The summer before, it was Pickled Nettles. This year, it is most certainly Nettle Chips. With their unique umami tastiness and a wealth of potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, protein, and plenty of other vitamins and minerals, nettles make the perfect springtime green…especially when marinated and dehydrated into a crunchy treat.
The stinging trichomes that make nettles famous will lose their biting ferocity as you glaze and dry the leaves. No need to worry about stung tongues! You will need a good pair of thick gloves and garden shears when harvesting though. Look for the young tender tops in spring and early summer, before the plant goes to flower or seed. Snip the plant about 6 inches from the top and collect in a paper bag or basket.
This is a super healthy, easy, and delicious recipe. Feel free to experiment with different spice combinations, finely grated cheeses, oils, or vinegars for a variety of flavors. Any leftover leaves can be juiced, added to pizza, smoothies, curries, breads, scrambles, or dried for tea, and the stems can be used to make rope. (Another fun nettle project I plan to tackle this year!)
Salty Nettle Chips
- 20-40 freshly harvested nettle leaves
- 2.5 tsp organic extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp organic rice wine vinegar
- 1-2 tbsp organic shoyu, soy sauce, tamari, or Braggs
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2-3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- Fresh ground organic black pepper to taste
Wearing gloves, harvest your nettles, rinse with cool water, and dry. Separate the leaves by breaking the petiole (leaf stem) from the main stem. Mix all of the glaze ingredients together in a bowl. Add the nettle leaves and gently toss until each leaf is well coated. You should be able to remove your gloves at this point. On a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, unravel each delicate leaf. Place pan in a warm oven at 200 degrees and allow the leaves to slowly dehydrate. After 15 to 20 minutes, peel each leaf off of the parchment paper and flip over so the other side can crisp in the oven. Check your nettles every 5 to 10 minutes until they lose sogginess and become nice and crunchy. Be careful not to let them char and turn dark brown or black. Total cooking time can vary between 30 and 45 minutes. Once you reach the desired crispiness, remove and allow to cool. Store in an airtight glass container for up to a week or possibly longer…if they aren’t devoured by then!
Let them eat vegan chocolate cake! This is a rich, decadent-tasting, and gorgeous cake. This scrumptious confection, topped with a luscious, dairy-free chocolate ganache frosting, is ideal to serve as an enticing dessert at any gathering throughout the year. Oh yes, I have served this cake to my guests on many occasions, and no one can believe it is vegan. It’s just that good.
Chocolate Ganache Cake Recipe
Makes 8 servings
• 2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
• 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
• 1 1/2 cups chocolate- or vanilla-flavored nondairy milk, plus more as needed
• 1/4 cup vegan cream cheese, at room temperature
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/2 cup nondairy milk (a thicker variety works best)
• 1 bar (3.5 ounces) vegan dark chocolate (snack-style bar, not unsweetened baking chocolate)
• 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Lightly coat a 9-inch round baking pan with vegan margarine. Put the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and stir with a dry whisk to combine. Add the brown sugar and whisk to combine.
3. Put 1/4 cup of the nondairy milk, vegan cream cheese, olive oil, and vanilla extract in a blender and process until smooth. Add to the flour mixture, along with the remaining 1 1/4 cups of nondairy milk. Stir until well combined and somewhat fluffy. The mixture will be stiff, but if it seems overly dry, stir in additional nondairy milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, up to 3 tablespoons.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 15 minutes. Decrease the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (If it seems that the cake is starting to burn during the last 10 minutes of baking, tent it with foil.) Put the pan on a wire rack. Allow the cake to cool completely.
5. While the cake is cooling, prepare the ganache. Heat the nondairy milk in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat until steaming hot but not boiling. Chop the vegan chocolate bar into small pieces. Put the chocolate pieces, olive oil and sugar in a large bowl.
6. Slowly pour in the nondairy milk, 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition, until the chocolate is smooth and shiny. Immediately drizzle or spread the frosting over the cake. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until set. Covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator, leftover cake will keep for about 2 days.
Recipe taken from Jazzy Vegetarian Classics.
Laura Theodore is a 2014 TASTE award-winning television personality, radio host, vegan chef, cookbook author and recording artist. She is author of Jazzy Vegetarian Classics: Vegan Twists on American Family Favorites and Jazzy Vegetarian: Lively Vegan Cuisine Made Easy and Delicious. Laura is the on-camera host, writer and co-producer of the popular cooking show, Jazzy Vegetarian and hosts the weekly podcast radio show, Jazzy Vegetarian Radio.
These are a combination between Lara bars, truffles, Girl Scout Samoa cookies and the best healthy food you ever ate! Thanks to my mom, the Girl Scouts and the price of Lara bars for the inspiration. My kids were literally fighting over them as quickly as I could roll them and the batch is gone! Back to the kitchen I go!
Photo By Jennifer Robins
• 1 cup pitted dates
• 1/4 cup enjoy life chocolate chips
• 3/4 cup pecans
• 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut (and a little extra for rolling)
Photo By Jennifer Robins
1. Put all ingredients into food processor, Nutribullet or blender and pulse until ingredients are well combined.
2. Take "dough" and roll into bite-sized truffles or form into snack bars.
3. Roll in additional coconut if desired and drizzle with my Magically Magic Shell for a little something special
4. Try to reserve any of these beyond the first 5 minutes of their preparation!!!
I am Jennifer, just a plain ol' mom. Not a "Pinterest worthy" mom, or a "soccer mom," or a "PTA president mom." Just a run-of-the-mill, trying to survive, want-the-best-for-my-family kind of mom and wife. After being gluten-free for about four years, I realized there was still a lot of junk in our pantry, and I wanted better for our family. I began cooking more from scratch, using real WHOLE foods of which I can feel proud. I started predominantlypaleo.blogspot.com to share meals that are primarily grain-free and refined-sugar-free but full of flavor and spirit!
Just in case you need another reason to avoid sweetened drinks, brominated vegetable oil (BVO) lurks in many citrus-flavored sodas and sports drinks. BVO is vegetable oil bonded to the chemical bromine, and the makers of drinks such as Powerade, Mountain Dew, Fresca and Squirt use it to help emulsify oil-based flavoring agents. Banned as a food additive in Europe, India and Japan, BVOs were first categorized by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe” in 1958. But in 1970, the FDA reversed that decision after studies linked the consumption of brominated oil with heart disease in rats. BVO was then classified as an “interim food additive” pending more research—still its status today. While minimal research has been conducted on the safety of BVOs, a few studies suggest that bromine can build up in our bodies over time. After extreme soda binges (2 to 8 liters daily), a few patients have needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, all symptoms of overexposure to bromine.
Summer is just around the corner and what better pairing than yogurt and berries? June will ripen the season’s first strawberries, raspberries and cherries; when summer is in full swing you will want to fill your basket with huckleberries, blueberries, marionberries and perhaps even a few gooseberries.
Homemade yogurt is a cinch! You may be under the misconception that you need a yogurt maker to create fresh yogurt, but although these machines are helpful and create the ideal environment for fermentation, they are completely unnecessary!
Most of the tools needed you probably have around your house:
• quart canning jar
• fluffy kitchen towel
• kitchen twine or rubber bands
• an instant-read thermometer
• spoon or whisk
• oven or a warm area in your home
You’ll start with a scoop of store-bought yogurt (you can eventually use your homemade yogurt as a culture starter). Something to pay attention to when purchasing store-bought yogurt is that the ingredient list includes, “Live Active Yogurt Cultures.” The live cultures are necessary for turning the milk into yogurt.
How to Make Victoria’s Homemade Yogurt
• 3 3/4 cups whole milk
• 1/3 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1. Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat until an instant-read thermometer reaches 180 degrees F. Pour into a heatproof the quart canning jar or a heat-proof glass bowl and allow the milk to cool until the thermometer reaches 115 degrees F.
2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
3. Once the milk reaches 115 degrees F, stir in the yogurt and cover with plastic wrap or the canning jar lid.
4. Wrap the bowl or jar in a large, thick dish towel and secure with string or rubber bands. Put into the oven and immediately turn off the heat. Let the yogurt sit until slightly thickened, 10-20 hours.*
5. Remove the towels and chill the yogurt for at least 2 hours before serving. Yields: 1 quart
*This is the fermentation stage; the longer the yogurt sits the more tart it will become.
Victoria Greenstreet is inspired by seasonal ingredients. Her focus is whole foods and gluten-free cookery. She is a classically trained chef, freelance food writer, stylist and photographer. She is currently working on her first cookbook. Visit her blog Honey Dumplings for more recipes and culinary adventures.