Infused liquors: making cheap booze classy

Infused liquor. It's so easy it's almost not worth mentioning, but here I am, buckling under a self-imposed sense of obligation to share this magic with you. I started infusing liquors this year and bringing them to food swaps. Wow, was I a popular swapper. Good lord, they love their booze. I had them fooled for a few months and then people started to catch on to how simple it is to infuse their own liquors. I've infused tequila with strawberries & lime and raspberries & honey. I've made peach-infused vodka with agave syrup. Most recently, I followed these instructions from Martha Stewart for a Cranberry-and-Orange Vodka and gave bottles of it away for Christmas. The best part is, you can just make up your own recipe once you get the basic formula.

To infuse liquor you need:

A) Liquor. The liquor doesn't need to be expensive. It really doesn't. You are dressing it up so nicely that you won't be able to taste that it came from a giant plastic bottle that you had to stoop down to get in the liquor store. This is a place where you can get away with being a bit cheap.

B) An "infusing agent" (I think I just made that term up) & an optional sweetener. The "infusing agent" can be fruit, herbs or something else I haven't thought of yet. I hear there garlic-infused vodkas out there, but that's not really my thing. In fact, it makes my stomach turn just thinking about it. I like to use fresh berries, when possible, but thawed out frozen ones work just fine too. Juicy fruits work best; I would be skeptical of a banana- or apple-infusion but if you try it, tell me about it, ok? Fresh herbs are key in herbal infusions; check out this post on Herbal Digestif for more info on that. The recipe I used for my Christmas vodka essentially calls for making a cranberry simple syrup, which allows the sugar to dissolve and the cranberries to split and release their juices. If you are using honey or agave as your sweetener, you can add it directly to the liquor without heating it, although warming it up a bit makes it easier to mix in. If you aren't heating your infusing agents, give them a light smash with a fork to break up some of the juicy bits. You don't want to make fruit puree of it, but a bit of a crush will help the infusion process.

A few ideas for infusions...

  • Raspberry & Lime Tequila

  • Peach & Vanilla Bean Vodka

  • Cranberry-Orange Vodka

  • Lemon & Lime Gin

  • SO MANY MORE...

I let my infusions sit for a minimum of three days and up to two weeks. After a few days, I usually move it to the fridge where it can be safely stored for months. If you keep it in the freezer, it will keep for a very very long time. In a pinch for New Year's Eve? Make it tonight, let it sit for 24 hours & then break it out for a midnight toast. Even though it will be a young infusion, the flavor will still be strong, especially if you heat up your berries and sweetener before adding them to the liquor.

Happy New Year, peeps! See you in 2012 :) I've got some resolutions to think about, a NYE party to finish planning and perhaps another Whole Living Action Plan to start. Even though I tend to do a lot of my annual goal-making and looking-back on my birthday, I still like taking the time each December/January to think about the past year and wrap it up neatly in my mind. 

Coming up in January: A very special blog anniversary, if you acknowledge such milestones. I do, so we'll be celebrating in style here on the ol' blog.

the lotion & lip balm

I made my own lotion! And lip balm! I was guided completely by Christina, who relied on Jillian's beautiful recipe from the From Scratch Holidays e-book. I don't even have any tips to add because I am such an amateur lotion-maker, so just go read it. In fact, I'm pretty sure I just helplessly watched Christina make the lotion, feebly offering help with whisking and joke-making while sipping on Bailey's. Either way, making lotion is actually pretty fun.





Mmm, that lip balm is so soothing. We added a few drops of peppermint in the lip balm and a few drops of lavender in the lotion.

You'll need to whisk it all into a frenzy. The best part about the lotion recipe that Jillian gives is that is it so easily modified to make lip balm, so in one evening you can make yourself a whole array of body care products. The lotion recipe make about one pint, which is perfect for dividing up and giving away as presents. Or for keeping to yourself.

I use mine every morning and it is particularly wonderful for the elbows and other dry spots. It goes on a little greasy and then absorbs in so nicely. By making your own lotion, you can just skip the typical routine of spreading weird chemicals and preservatives all over your skin to be absorbed into your bloodstream. Which, I think, is a nice routine to skip.

Ta da! Aren't you impressed? I certainly was. What other homemade gifts did we give? Well, I've saved the booziest for last... fruit-infused vodka :) We'll talk about that tomorrow, right in time for you to infuse some for the New Year.

Homemade gift: Sriracha party nuts

Ouy, holiday cheer hangover, huh? Did you all have a nice holiday? I sure did. Vegetable casseroles & Swiss Colony petit fours & presents & homemade cinnamon bread & winter sangria & Big Moose Ale & family time. Just lovely.

The holidays aren't quite over yet because I want to tell you about the tasty holiday treats we made for gift-giving. Yes, in addition to the hundreds of Christmas cookies, we made a few savory and boozy edibles.

First up, these Sriracha Party Nuts. A few food swaps ago, I got the tastiest batch of sriracha spiced nuts ever from Jenna. With that as my inspiration, I searched high and low for a similar recipe. We found this video showcasing a recipe from The Sriracha Cookbook by Randy Clemens and decided to go with it. We made a double batch for Thanksgiving and was encouraged enough by their popularity to make a bunch of them for Christmas gifts.

Yeah, I never actually got a photo of them. Here are the delicious flaky sriracha-sugar crumbs that were left. Trust, these nuts were that good. They are only a little bit spicy (we'd like to kick them up more next time) with a sugary coating. In other words, they are incredibly addicting and awesome.

For those of you that would like the recipe written out instead of watching the video, here it is:

Sriracha Party Nuts

Ingredients

  • 1 lb mixed nuts, lightly salted

  • 1 egg white

  • 1-2 tbsp sriracha

  • 1/2 cup white sugar

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary

Directions

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg white, water & sriracha. Add the mixed nuts and mix until evenly coated.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugars and rosemary. Pour over the nuts and combine until they are all coated with a gooey, spicy, sweet mixture.

Spread the nuts out into a singly layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every fifteen minutes and tasting as necessary :) Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

More treats coming up this week. Basically, I turned circles in my kitchen, clutching the From Scratch Holidays eBook, trying to make every recipe in there. It's that good, people. So anyhow, check back in to hear about my foray into making my own lotion & lip balm along with a post on the merits of infused liquor and a love note to homemade mustard.

a christmas photo

For this year's card, we packed up thermoses of hot tea and walked down to the state capitol building and Empire State Plaza. We scurried down there quickly, hoping to catch the good light right after sunset. To our surprise, we chose the same night as the Albany Last Run 5K so we were also treated to holiday music, fireworks and a show of freezing cold runners scooting past us. Bonus! After the bulk of the runners had passed, I laid down on my stomach on supercold brick to snap a few photos because I really wanted you all to have a magical Christmas card. And magical it is, yes?

Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas weekend, if that's your thing. (If not, it's still the freakin' weekend so get your celebration on!) My gifts are made, wrapped and adorned with these cute labels. We'll be feasting with family on Christmas Eve and Christmas night and, in between, enjoying a cozy Christmas morning for two :)

For more holiday cheer...
Last year's cards from Rifle Paper Co.
Perhaps my all-time favorite Christmas card.

Our epic cookie bake-a-thon

If you follow along on Twitter or Facebook, you know that this past weekend was one for the history books. Why? We made 40 dozen cookies. Over 450 cookies.

Sister & I packed up our cookie tins and some baking supplies and drove over to Mom's house in the Berkshires mid-morning on Sunday. We got back home past dinner time. In between? We baked. We baked chocolate mint cookies, molasses cookies, butter cookies, peanut butter kiss cookies, chocolate fruit cake cookies and cowboy cookies. We made a mess. We cleaned it up. We made more messes.

We were a well-oiled machine. Except for, of course, the occasional baking FAIL. Worry not, though: this buttercream frosting was saved and turned out to be absolutely decadent.

We mixed, stirred, whisked, shaped, decorated, baked and cooled all day long, stopping only to... well, stopping to eat, drink, giggle, stretch & generally goof off.

We had to set up a separate cooling and packaging area on a folding table set up in the living room. The cookies began piling up and by the end of it, we were overrun with holiday treats. Which is exactly what I had hoped would happen.

This bake-a-thon will go down in the history books. Even though the northeast is sloshing around in rainy, un-Christmasy weather, this was the perfect way to launch an all-out assault of holiday cheer. Thank you to my lifelong baking partners for yet another set of memories I'll forever keep with me. Also, thank you for ensuring that I'll gain enough weight to survive an upcoming harsh winter. That's so important in today's world, and I'll have 40 dozen cookies to thank for it.

A big shout-out to ShopRite for letting me try out some of their private label baking ingredients! From flour to sugars to spices, we were stoked to test out quality ingredients for our epic, history-making, all-day holiday cookie bake-a-thon.