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ebruary
23
Homemade Infused Vodka and Spirits


The flavored vodka market appears to have exploded in the past few years.  On a recent trip to the spirits shop, there were shelves upon shelves of vodkas in all imaginable flavors.  Whipped cream, bacon, and sweet tea were new ones that caught my eye, but not quite my wallet.


Infusing alcohols is an ancient practice.  I read recently of a newly translated Mongolian cookbook dating from 1330, that included a recipe for lamb stew infused vodka.  When my husband and I were in China for our honeymoon, on several occasions we were offered a nip from a large glass bottle of grain alcohol, which housed several poisonous snakes.  The traditional elixir is thought to have medicinal properties, and held a place of honor in most of the homes we visited.  I can't comment on its medicinal effects, but when we finally gave in (impressed?), it wasn't awful, though had a slightly slippery feel as it went down my throat.  And I didn't die.

But snakes and bacon aside, infusing your own spirits is a simple and delicious project, and good skill to have at the ready.  A couple of months ago I posted a recipe for DIY Vanilla Extract, which included instructions for homemade vanilla vodka.  I took my own advice and gave a few of these as holiday hostess gifts, and was the belle of the ball.  My very first attempt at home infused alcohols was this beautiful recipe for fresh strawberry aquavit liqueur, from the gorgeous La Cucina Italiana magazine.  In both cases I very much appreciated that I was able to use fresh and natural ingredients, that resulted in a far superior flavor, from anything I had tasted from a store.

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ovember
15
Wild Rice Stuffing with Cranberry, Apricot, and Scallion


My friend, and great cook, Cathy Elton asked me to contribute to a thanksgiving recipe series on her heart-healthy blog "What Would Cathy Eat?".  One recipe she requested was a "stuffing made without meat or butter".  Not an intuitive leap for this French Culinary Institute-trained, duck-fat-loving chef.

I started musing on wild rice.  Deeply flavored, elegant, and a little unexpected, it is also a really smart choice in the middle of a seemingly endless table of fatty simple carbohydrates.  This nutty whole grain is actually not technically rice, but rather a seed from the aquatic grasses surrounding fresh water lakes in northern North America.  It has twice the protein of brown rice, and almost eight times the protein of white, serving up 6.5 grams in one cooked cup, with 3 grams of fiber.

There is a rich mysterious aroma to the grains, reminiscent of tannins and black tea.  I added tart dried cranberries and apricots, woken up with some light vinegar, which will offset the richness of turkey and gravy.  This dish would also be wonderful for lunch the next day, as a cold rice salad with leftover pieces of turkey added, or made with chicken any time during the year.

And with this smart side dish choice, just think of all the extra pie you can justify.


WILD RICE STUFFING WITH CRANBERRY, APRICOT, AND SCALLION
By Catie Schwalb

Serves 6, can easily be doubled or tripled.

1 1/4 cups Wild Rice, uncooked
2 1/2 cups Stock, Vegetable or Poultry, or water
1/2 cup Dried Cranberries
1/3 cup Dried Apricots
2 TBS White Wine Vinegar, plus more to taste
6 Scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced, about 3/4 cup loosely packed
2 large Garlic cloves, slivered
2 TBS Olive Oil
1/2 cup Pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
Salt, to taste

Combine wild rice and 2 1/4 cups of stock, or water, in a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a fast simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from heat, let stand for 10 minutes, and then fluff with a fork.

In a small bowl, combine cranberries, apricots, 2 TBS white wine vinegar, and 2 TBS warm water. Set aside for about 20 minutes.

Sautee scallions and garlic with olive oil, gently, until just wilted, but not browned.

Drain cranberries and apricots. Thinly slice apricots.

Combine cooked wild rice, pecans, cranberries, apricots, and scallion and garlic mixture, including all of the infused olive oil in the pan you sauteed them in. Season with a generous pinch of salt. Taste. If needed add more salt, a few drops of vinegar, or a little warm stock if it feels too dry.

Can be served cold, at room temperature, or warmed in an ovenproof dish tented with foil.



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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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