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Cherry & Ginger Infused Vodka

8 Sep

Same stuff, different URL!

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I haven’t been doing much cooking or kitchen experimentation as of late. The end of the summer heat and humidity zapped all my motivation, this happens to me every year – but the good news is that fall is on the way and I’ve got so many plans!

Plan number one involves an infused vodka. I love making homemade vodka infusions and homemade liqueurs – they are easy, tasty, adaptable to any crazy flavor combination you can come up with, and they always impress people at parties. At least until they beg you for the recipe and you have to admit how easy it was. The hardest part is the waiting.

This vodka infusion is for a zombie themed Halloween party. I wanted an interesting flavor combination that would also turn the vodka very dark and bloody looking, without having to add additional food coloring (still a possiblity, if I need to get it JUST the right shade of old blackish blood!). I also wanted something not super sweet or too fruity, so this is why I went with an infusion instead of a liqueur.

I decided on very dark colored cherries (which had the added Halloween benefit of causing my kitchen too look like a bloody murder had taken place), ginger, pink peppercorns and allspice. I went very light on the peppercorns and the allspice, because I can always add more later after the initial infusion. I want to make sure the cherry and ginger flavors are right before going crazy with the spice. I initially wanted it to be actually spicy, using some sort of spicy pepper that would complement the sweet taste of the cherries – but I don’t know enough about hot peppers to know which one to pick, so I decided to stick to flavors I do know. I will have to read up on spicy peppers and make a cherry pepper vodka infusion one of these days, because the idea is really stuck in my head!

I don’t have a specific recipe to share, as I just made this up as I went along, but here are the general ingredients I used:

  • 1 gallon of vodka – Stick with a good quality brand. I have found that Svedka is one of the better tasting cheap vodkas, at least for liqueur purposes. I’ve never used it for an infusion, so I hope it turns out OK, though I have some ideas to “smooth” out the taste a bit.
  • 1 lb organic dark cherries – More could have been used, potentially up to 2 lbs, but that would have gotten a bit too expensive for me.
  • Fresh Ginger – I did not measure the amount of ginger I used, best guess is about 2 oz of sliced ginger. I did not grate it (which would have imparted more flavor) due to the fact that grated ginger has made previous infusions and liquers too cloudy.
  • 1 teaspoon each of crushed pink peppercorns and whole allspiceI crushed them with the back of a spoon.

Before I talk about the process I used, I’ll talk about the infusion jar I used. This is a 2 gallon jar that my sister-in-law picked up for me a couple of years ago. I’ve used it to make a bunch of different alcohol based drinks that need time to age. You can really use any glass jar large enough to hold your ingredients – just make sure it’s not plastic or any other material that can take on and impart odors and flavors into your infusion.

If your jar lid doesn’t have a seal (mine does not), place a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper between the jar and the lid for storage. Not sealing it properly can cause the alcohol to start evaporating. You definitely don’t want that!

The first step is to remove pits and stems from the cherries. You can use a cherry pitter and call it a day, but I sliced each cherry into quarters around the pit. I don’t own a cherry pitter and, actually, cherry flesh exposed to the vodka ought to give the infusion more flavor.

I put the cherries in the bottom of my jar, then added the sliced ginger along with the crushed peppercorns and allspice. Then I poured the vodka over the fruit. I put the jar in a cool, dark place that isn’t disturbed often – in my kitchen that is a seldom used cabinet that I mainly just use for liqueur, infusion and vinegar aging.

That’s it! Now I need to wait. Since I’m winging this one, I’m going to give it one week and try a bit. One thing about using fresh fruit (as opposed to just spices, vanilla, ginger or other similar items) is that too long of an infusion can sometimes impart a vegetal flavor to the vodka. I did this accidentally with apples last year, leaving them to sit for about a month (I was actually following a recipe that time!) and basically had a gallon and a half of undrinkable vodka!

I plan to re-bottle the infusion and then most likely add more pepper (potentially different varieties of peppercorn as well) to bring out a stronger peppery flavor – at least that is the plan, it might change, but I will certainly blog about the results!


Quinoa Salad

24 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to:


The quinoa salad recipe that I’m going to share is one that came to me by way of Sarah, though it’s kind of a funny story. Last March Alex had his annual St Paddy’s day party – a party that is also a celebration of home brewed beer and good food as well. Late in the night a few of us stumbled across a giant bowl of this incredible salad that had obviously arrived after the initial “food rush” earlier in the evening, because there was still a lot left. A few of us stood around devouring the salad in awe, like it was the most amazing thing we’d ever eaten. I think it actually was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten!

I knew it was quinoa and vegetables, but I couldn’t really identify all of the flavors. So, the next day I told Sarah she had to find out who made the salad and get the recipe. Sarah knows everyone – and if she doesn’t know someone, she makes it a point to meet them. She also seems to know everything else about what’s going on at almost any party she is at… such as who brought what. Thus, asking her to get the recipe resulted in my getting my greedy hands on it within about a day!

I have made this a few times since, but certainly the best rendition of it was the batch I whipped up last Friday night for a Saturday housewarming party thrown by our friends Lauren and Eric. This salad is very versatile, in that you can basically throw in any veggies you like, but the key to the over all taste is really the feta and lemon. I’ve made it with chevre before, but it’s just not the same.

And, I have to admit, though I used the word “recipe” above, this is really more of a description of what I used in the salad recently, feel free to stray from this list of ingredients… just don’t forget the feta!

Quinoa Salad

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa (red or white, or a mixture of both, which is my favorite)
  • 1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled (or more/less, to taste)
  • Juice from 1/2 of a lemon
  • Diced vegetables, I used about a half cup each of: un-waxed, seeded cumber, purple bell pepper, and carrots
  • Huge handful of baby spinach, sliced into ribbons
  • 2 tablespoons minced sweet onion (or red onion – and you may use more, I like only a small hint of raw onion flavor in my salads)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds (added just before serving, otherwise they don’t stay as crunchy)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Some other items that might be a great addition: chopped tomatoes, blanched green beans, olives, toasted chopped pecans, celery, fresh herbs…

Rinse your quinoa. It’s a bit annoying (I wasn’t being very careful and ended up with quinoa ALL OVER my house last weekend), but it’s really important in removing any trace of bitterness from the grain. The easiest method I’ve found is to put it in a very large bowl, fill the bowl with water and swish the quinoa around for a bit. Then slowly pour the water off into a very, very fine sieve (I use a gold coffee filter – it has to be very fine, raw quinoa is tiny!).

Bring two cups of water to a boil (I add a tiny splash of olive oil to mine, to ensure against boil overs), add quinoa, lower to a simmer, cover and cook for about 12 minutes.

Making the quinoa the night before is normally a good idea, as it needs to cool off before mixing with the other ingredients and it seems to take quite a while to cool down in my experience. Once it was cooked, I put mine in the fridge over night.

In the meantime, I chopped the vegetables and mixed them with the rest of the ingredients, including feta and lemon, in another bowl to cool over night – then combined the quinoa and vegetable mixture in the morning.

Buttermilk Cheese Fail

18 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to:


Part 2 of a two-part series: Making butter, then using the buttermilk left over to make cheese.

So, first things first: was making all that butter, just to get the buttermilk leftover, worth it? No, not really. I didn’t get very much cheese and it wasn’t worth the hours of effort I put into it – so I do have to chalk this idea up to a FAIL. The butter at least turned out great.

I also experienced a fail when it comes to the photos I took during this process. Most of them came out too dark to even share. I was using my iPhone, so what should have I expected? Not much, I guess.

This is the second time I’ve made cheese from a recipe that didn’t require cheese cultures of any sort – both times this has resulted in a cheese texture and taste that I did not like nor did I anticipate. I can’t completely blame this on the recipes or processes included with these recipes – it might just be that, due to my already making more complex cheeses at home, I was expecting a lot more than a cheese made without real cultures can produce.

Thus, no more cheese making without cheese cultures. Culture has a place, and that place is in the cheese made in my kitchen!

That said, this cheese isn’t bad. It’s a mild, sweet, curdy cheese very similar to ricotta cheese. In fact, I can’t really think of much to DO with the cheese, other than use it like ricotta. Problem is that it’s summer and I don’t feel like making or eating heavy pasta dishes.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the buttermilk left after making butter is not like the cultured buttermilk you buy at the store. It’s not something you could even use in recipes to substitute for buttermilk, as it’s not cultured. If you wanted to use it in a recipe you would have to add a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar to it. You could also substitute it for regular milk in most recipes.

The buttermilk is sweet tasting and is very similar to plain whole milk. In removing butter from the cream, I removed butterfat – so I basically made cream into milk. I’m a kitchen alchemist that way!

This cheese is such a fail that I won’t go into much detail about what I did to make it, as I would not recommend anyone go through the trouble of: 1) making enough butter to get a good amount of buttermilk; 2) making this particular cheese with the left over milk.

The general idea was that I let the buttermilk heat up to 160 degrees. It started forming curds when it hit 120 degrees, so I had no problems there.

After it hit 180, I took it off the heat and started spooning the curds into cheese cloth I had laid out in a colander. The rest of the process, hanging and draining the whey, was the same as the process I described in my blog post all about making soft cheese.

I still have the cheese in the fridge, it will probably be good until this weekend… so, if you have any recipe ideas for about 1 cup of ricotta-like cheese, I’m open to suggestions!

Cardamom Allspice Simple Syrup

17 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to:


In case you’re worried about my lack of posting in the past week, I can assure you that I have a large backlog of half-written posts just waiting to be finished. It may appear as if I went on a blog hiatus, but in reality I’ve been on a “finishing blog pots” hiatus! I’ve been busy doing a lot of yard work this past week (a post about that coming soon!) and also had a busy, fun weekend filled with friends and canoeing, plus much needed recovery time spent on the couch relaxing.

Anyway, Saturday morning, before doing yard work and getting ready to head out to a fabulous housewarming party, I whipped up a batch of simple syrup. I’ve been using a cardamom ginger flavored simple syrup in my iced coffee all summer long. I made it last winter as a potential base for homemade liqueur (something I WILL get into again this winter and, I’m sure, post about quite a lot!). While the syrup tasted incredible, it wasn’t quite what I was planning for a liqueur… so, I added just a touch of vodka as a preservative, bottled it and it sat in my fridge until June, when I had the good idea of adding a touch to my coffee. YUM. Best idea ever!

I ran out of this syrup last week and wanted to re-create it, but also wanted to play around with the flavors a bit. I initially intended to do cardamom and cinnamon, but couldn’t find cinnamon sticks reasonably priced anywhere. I’m sure they will start showing up in the next few weeks, due to the upcoming fall season (which is my favorite, by the way), but since I wanted the syrup now I altered my plans.

Cardamom Allspice Simple Syrup:

Yield: about 10 oz of syrup

  • 1 cup of sugar (normally white – for this one I used light brown sugar, I like the flavor it lends to the syrup)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon whole all spice
  • 7 cardamom pods (or small amounts of any whole spices that inspire you – I used about 1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger in the “Cardamom Ginger” syrup)

Crush the cardamom and the allspice with the back of a spoon. The cardamom pods just need to be partially broken, enough so that some of the seeds come out. The allspice should be broken into a few smaller pieces… this crushing process helps the flavor intensity of your syrup.

In a small pot, add sugar (packed brown sugar makes a very attractive scoop in your pot!) and water. Stir and then add the spices.

Bring to a boil over medium heat and then allow to simmer (not full boil, we aren’t making candy here) for about 10 minutes. You can let it boil 15 minutes if you want the syrup on the thicker side, which I personally like.

Remove from heat, allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then strain into a glass jar or other glass container. I used a gold filter coffee strainer set inside a jam funnel – those two esoteric kitchen implements see quite a lot of use in my kitchen, often not at all for their intended purposes!

filtering brown sugar simple syrup

Making Butter

8 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to:


Part 1 of a two-part series: I’m making butter, then using the buttermilk left over to make cheese.

My kitchen was a butter-coated disaster after making FOUR batches of homemade butter Saturday afternoon. The batches were defined by the amount of heavy cream my trusty stand mixer could turn into butter at one time – this amount turned out to be 1 quart of cream per batch. I started with 1 gallon of heavy cream and ended up with 1 lb and 13oz of butter.

I wish I could say that I took pictures during the process, but it was too much of a mess! I took pictures of the mess instead. Making butter is easy and one single batch is not much to complain about – but after making batch after batch butter started falling on the counters, the floor, it was on my hands, I accidentally stepped on some and every utensil in the kitchen was dirty. Oh and  that one time I started checking facebook while the mixer was going and HEY! the butter was done earlier than I expected; I lost a bit of buttermilk due to it sloshing all over the place.

However, I really enjoyed it. At one point, while I was cleaning a huge chunk of butter, with my (clean) hands, in a large bowl of iced water, I realized that working at a small scale creamery would be awesome. I love making dairy products and I find all of the processes involved, plus the science behind it, fascinating. Sure, even a small scale creamery uses a more effective process to wash the butter than just hands and iced water (I should have used the blender or food processor, but was too lazy to drag either out), but it would still be fun.

I’m not going to go into too much of a description of making butter, it really is very easy.

Whip heavy cream in a standing mixer (or with a hand mixer, or even shake the cream in a jar) until it goes though it’s various states: frothy, whipped cream, really whipped cream, butter.

Plus others have already explained the process. Here are a few links I found helpful in my process:

How to Make Butter @ Omnomicon – The first time I made butter I followed Aleta’s directions!

Cooking for Engineers – Making Butter

Butter through the ages – lots of good background info here

The butter tastes great. Thus far I’ve used it to cook with, on homemade bread (homemade butter on homemade bread!) and on toast. I’ll probably eventually use a lot of it to bake with – I left it all unsalted and froze it so that it would stay fresh.

I did end up with the buttermilk I need to start on part 2: making buttermilk cheese. I didn’t measure the amount of buttermilk I ended up with – though I know I could have been more efficient in the process and ended up with more. This was supposed to be fun though, so I didn’t worry about it! In the next part of this series I’ll talk about the cheese I made with this buttermilk:

Time to Bake the Granola!

7 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to:


I’ve only made homemade granola once before today, last summer during one of my “gluten free” stints: it turned out OK but I promptly turned it into granola bars that were not very tasty. They tasted very “healthy” and not in a good way. I brought them to a party, no one really ate them (except for the “pity tries”) and I wasn’t very surprised. Those got mostly tossed.

I eat granola on a daily basis – at least one meal each day consists of greek yogurt, granola, raw nuts, a bit of honey or a bit of raspberry jam. This has been one of my favorite meals for years and it’s very often my lunch at work. I normally shell out the big bucks for small containers of healthy granolas that are high on nutrients and low on sugar and other uneeded crap.

So, with my granola recipe I was looking for something versatile that I could add nuts or dried fruit to – this time I’m using pecans and dried cranberries, my current favorite combo (another recent favorite is almonds and dried apricots). I read through a number of recipes before deciding to just make up my own recipe this morning – it turned out great, so I’ll share it with you! And just in case you were wondering, Ruby waited on the back deck while I cooked in the kitchen.


Yields about 6 1/2 cups, fit into a 7 cup container perfectly

NOTE: Due to the fact that my pecans got a little dark, I think I’ll wait until the last 5-10 minutes of cooking time to mix those in next time.

I used:

  • 5 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • 1 cup pecan halves broken up into smaller pieces
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons canola or other cooking oil
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a very large cookie sheet or baking tray by spraying it with non-stick spray.

In a small sauce pan mix the liquid and spice ingredients: honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and canola oil. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the sugar melts and the mixture just begins to bubble around the edges. It will smell AWESOME. Remove from heat to cool just a bit.

Measure the oats and break up the pecans, mixing them into the oats. Slowly pour the sugar mixture over the oat mixture, stirring with a rubber spatula – though, like me, you may find it easier to just stir with your hands, to ensure everything is evenly coated!

Turn out the entire mixture onto your prepared cookie sheet. My cookie sheet was FULL, so I patted it down and smoothed out the top.

Cook for about 30 minutes (the longer you cook it, the crunchier it will be), stirring it around at least once or twice. You may find it easier to remove the pan from the oven to stir the mixture around – my pan was so full I didn’t want to risk oats all over the bottom of my oven.

Once the mixture is browned to your liking (at 30 minutes the granola was perfectly crunchy for me, but most of the pecans were too browned for my liking), take out and place on a wire rack until completely cool.

Once cool, put into a storage container and mix in the dried cranberries. This should keep indefinitely in the fridge – but I’m going to try keeping it out of the fridge in an attempt to ensure it stays very crunchy.

Beer Yeast Bread Starter

2 Aug

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Every loaf of bread around here is made with a matured starter. Experience has taught me that a starter is the key ingredient to any bread  made at home; the starter imparts a better taste and texture than just throwing a bunch of active dry yeast into your dough, letting it rise twice, and baking it a few hours later. If you don’t have a starter, then at the very least let your dough hang out in the fridge for a few days – when you taste the difference you won’t be sorry you had to wait so long! Of course, I should also say that I’ve taken no bread making class, everything I’ve learned is from my own personal experience along with a lot of cookbook and internet reading about bread, yeast, starters and baking.

A friend who recently graduated from pastry school shared with me that her teacher specifically instructed the class “never use beer yeast for baking!” Oops, haven’t even been to culinary school and I’m already breaking the rules! The bread pictured above is made with yeast from a bottle of Ommegang Rare Vos.

One of my favorite kitchen experimentations over the last year has been playing around with beer yeast bread starters. To clarify, for all you home brewers out there, this is not taking a packet of White Labs ale yeast and dumping it into a bowl with flour and water. My process involves harvesting the yeast left at the bottom of a bottle conditioned beer. You will want to use the yeast from a beer that is lower on hops, as a higher the hop content will produce a bitter bread (however, totally random idea that just occured – hoppy beer, rye flour, a few caraway seeds… fantastically bitter bread?). You also probably want to do this from a bottle no one has been drinking directly from, just in the name of sanitation and all that.

Beer yeast bread starters lend a slightly sour-dough taste (the longer you keep the starter alive, the more sour the bread will be, in a GOOD way), though the starter does not impart any particular beer flavor (you could use beer as part of the liquid in your bread for that). I’m not looking to add beer flavor to my bread, with these starters I want the matured yeast flavor… the funkier and sourer the yeast flavor the better, in my opinion.

This isn’t quite a recipe, more like a method. I tend to wing it when it comes to almost everything in the kitchen, but I’ve got this process down to some specific measurements by now. If you try this I would LOVE to hear about your results! At the end of the post I’ll share some of the beers that have yielded successful starters.

Beer Yeast Bread Starter


  • Bottle conditioned beer – you want to use yeast from a bomber (22 oz, 750 ml or thereabouts) . See note below regarding my experiences with certain beers.
  • 60 grams unbleached flour (or bread flour)
  • 1/2 cup luke warm water (run the water against your wrist, if it feels neither hot or cold, it’s the right temp)
  • 1-2 teaspoons of honey (optional – sometimes can help get a slow yeast going)

1. It goes without saying, you want to pour off beer from the bottle carefully. This is a fairly normal process used by beer drinkers, so that you don’t have yeasty filled glasses of beer. Once the beer has been poured off and you’ve got a yeast cake and maybe a 1-2 centimeters of beer left, swish it around a bunch to loosen all of the yeast. You want ALL that tasty yeast in your starter!

2. Pour the yeast into a glass bowl. I prefer to use my vintage 2 quart bowls, which I started collecting at thrift stores and flea markets specifically for this obsession (when you’re babying and keeping alive three different starters for weeks at a time and you’re running out of bowls to keep them in, yes, it’s kind of an obsession at that point).

3. Add the flour and water – mix with a fork fairly vigorously. You want to add air, but you do not need to worry about breaking up all the flour clumps. The yeast will do that on it’s own over the next day or so. IT’s alive! IT’s in YOUR kitchen! Cover IT with plastic wrap.

Let it hang out on your kitchen counter – a warm kitchen is best, but anything in the 70s or 80s is good. 60s is OK, but it may just take a little longer for the starter to develop.

4. Check on it in about 12 hours. This type of starter is never going to explode with foamy bubbles like a starter made with active dry yeast, but in order to tell if the yeast is doing it’s thing: look for small bubbles on top of the starter, smell it – if the smell of beer/yeast seems to over power the smell of flour, this is a good thing, move the bowl around and look at the texture of the mixture. You will also see a brownish liquid forming on the top of the starter – this is both any beer left over when you added the yeast, plus probably some new fermented booze. I mix the beer back in because I think it adds to the flavor.

If the starter doesn’t seem to be doing much at all you can add those optional teaspoons of honey at this point. This will often help get the yeast active again.

I normally allow this starter to hang out on the counter for about 2 days, checking on it to ensure it’s moving along and the texture of the mixture is thickening – it will get a glutenous, thickened, bubbly look. Here is a picture of a starter that is doing very well (click for larger image) – yours does not need to have this many bubbles to still be effective – it was 90 degrees outside and this starter practically blew up!

5. After 3-4 days your starter should be matured and ready to be used in your favorite bread recipe. But wait! You just spent all this time making the starter, what if you don’t want use it all up and have to go through that process again?

You can split your starter: scrape about half of it into another glass bowl. Add equal parts flour and water to each container (I like to stick with the 60g flour, 1/2 cup luke warm water ratio, it works for me), stirring in with a fork. Now you’ve got two starters. Let one sit out for about 12 hours, then it’s ready to use.

Stick the other one in the fridge. Once a week you can split it in half again, adding more flour and water to each side, letting one sit at room temperature for 12 hours to use. If you don’t want to continue splitting off, you can get away with just feeding and watering it once a week – adding about 30g flour and 1/4 cup of water. This can go on until your bowl is full. At that point you’ll really need to get to baking some bread!

Here is a short list of beers that I’ve had fairly good success with. Only one beer never yielded much more than a sweet smelling bowl of watery flour that eventually got mold: Dogfish Head Festina Peche (tip: mold on your starter= bad, throw it away!).

  • Ommegang Rare Vos – I’ve used this yeast multiple times with success
  • The Bruery Rugbrod – Don’t much enjoy the beer (which is a bummer, as I do enjoy rye beer) but it makes a fantastic starter. This was the first one I ever used.
  • Emperor Norton’s Cinnamon Stout – does not impart even a HINT of cinnamon to the bread. Made an excellent starter that lasted many weeks. I also froze a few tablespoons of this starter and reconstituted it months later with success.

Next I’d like to experiment more with a Berliner Weisse style beer – the festina didn’t work out because I don’t think it’s really bottle conditioned and the yeast at the bottom was pretty dead.