Citrus in jar with vodka

Citrus-Infused Vodka

Citrus in jar with vodkaI adapted this creation from Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe for Aquavit for holiday gift-giving several years ago but never got around to posting it.  The recipe was such a hit and so amazingly delicious, it would have been a shame to keep this under wraps any longer. 

I never attempted to recreate Samuelsson’s original recipe, so I don’t know exactly how my infusion differs from his.  All I know is that my version is dangerously good!

Samuelsson has a great thing going with his Aquavit, but I made it a bit easier for you.  Fresh mandarin oranges, kumquats, and kaffir lime leaves aren’t always readily available–at least in the Northeast United States–so I did some ingredient swapping.  I used clementines instead of mandarin oranges, but navel oranges and tangerines work too.  Instead of kumquats, I substituted the flesh of lime to get that tangy/sweet flavor.  Lime peel (just green part, no pith!) took the place of kaffir lime leaves.  Another tip: You don’t need to go with expensive vodka, as the infusion flavor is so strong, but do choose a decent potato-based one.  

citrus in jarsAlthough this recipe takes very little time to prepare, it does take planning…the infusion won’t be ready for a week or two (give it a taste after 1 week to see how it’s developing).

Before you run out to collect your citrus, make sure you have a very large glass jar or two, whatever can hold around 3 quarts (or 12 cups) of liquid.  I had to use two jars.  Make sure they are thoroughly sanitized.  That goes for the citrus too.  Don’t store the jars in the kitchen or other areas that get too warm.  I used a nice cool corner of my closet to store the jars.

The resulting liquid will be a vibrant yellow and looks striking in a glass bottle. If you plan on gifting this tasty spirit, find some nice bottles you can sterilize. I’ve used apple cider vinegar bottles, 1800 Tequila bottles, maple syrup bottles…so many options. You can also return the infusion to the vodka bottle for serving at home.

Recipe for Citrus-Infused Vodka

For syrup

  • ½ cup filtered water
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced – Using the edge of a spoon is a simple way to peel the ginger and wastes less than using a knife.
  • ¼ cup sugar (turbinado, sucanat, or whatever you have on hand)
  • 2 small limes (or 1 large lime), peel only – You want the green part of the peel only.  A peeler provides more control and you get larger, easier-to-strain pieces than if you use a grater or microplane.

For citrus infusion

  • 2 limes, cut into 6-8 wedges
  • ½ of small lime (or ¼ of large lime) flesh only, cut into 4 pieces – Remove remaining peel and white pith from lime used in syrup recipe above.  Use any remaining lime to squeeze in the water you’re drinking…You ARE drinking water, right? 🙂
  • 1 pink grapefruit, cut in half and then sliced to ¼-inch thickness
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced to ¼-inch thickness
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced to ¼-inch thickness
  • 2 clementine oranges (or tangerines or navel orange or mixture), peeled and divided into sections
  • 1 liter potato-based vodka

Combine water, ginger, sugar, and lime peel in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove syrup from heat and let cool.  Drop fruit into clean 3-quart glass jar.  Add syrup and vodka.  If using two jars, divvy up fruit, syrup, and vodka between them.  Screw top on jar and let sit at room temperature (or cooler) for 1 to 2 weeks.  Pour infusion through mesh strainer into different container to separate fruit from liquid.  Discard solids.  Pour infused vodka back into original bottle using funnel.

Green Dream Smoothie

Green Dream Juice and Smoothie Recipe

Ingredients for Green Dream Juice

These two recipes are smooth, mild, and cooling…perfect for easy drinking on a hot day.

Recipe for Green Dream Juice

makes approximately 40 ouncesGreen Dream Juice

  • 2 large organic apples, cored and cut to fit in juicer – I recommend Golden Delicious or Fuji
  • 2 large cucumbers, peeled
  • 2 limes, peeled
  • 1 inch fresh ginger – No need to peel
  • 4 leaves green kale with stalks – Red kale won’t change the taste of the juice, but it will definitely change the color!

Recipe for Green Dream Smoothie

makes approximately 20 ouncesGreen Dream Smoothie

  • 1 large cucumber, peeled
  • 1 lime, peel cut away
  • 1 large organic apples, cored and cut – I recommend Golden Delicious or Fuji
  • ½ inch fresh ginger, peeled or 1 teaspoon ginger juice 
  • 1 green kale leaf with stalk
  • 2-3 ice cubes

Add ingredients in order listed in a powerful blender, like Vita-Mix, and blend until smooth. Add a small amount of liquid (coconut water, almond milk, etc.) if needed to help the blending process.

Tangerine and star anise pods

Star Anise and Tangerine Infused Vodka

Tangerine and star anise pods

Tangerine and star anise pods

For those of you who aren’t familiar, alcohol infusions versus mixing flavors into alcohol is like the difference between letting sliced fruit marinate in a jar of water and merely adding fruit juice to the water.  Infusions don’t dilute the original liquid or add volume to it.  They leave behind pure flavor.  

I like to use vodka for infusions because it allows the flavors of what you add to really shine through.  Although you don’t need to go for an expensive brand of vodka, do choose a decent one.  The “rubbing alcohol” flavor common in the cheapest brands will ruin the flavors of the infusion.

This particular recipe is one that will either delight or disappoint…it all depends on if you enjoy the taste of licorice!  Star anise is used in many Chinese dishes, and has a distinct flavor very similar to licorice (but not in the sugary way of Twizzlers or Good & Plenty).    I’m not a huge licorice fan, but the addition of tangerine flavor resulted in a thumbs-up experience.  This drink is best chilled and enjoyed as an apéritif, or sipped on its own after a meal.

This recipe has the power of 3’s:  Only uses 3 ingredients and only takes 3 days to infuse.  Plenty of time to prepare for holiday sipping and gifting!

Store or gift in a fun bottle. This one is from 1800 Tequila

Store or gift in a fun bottle. This one is from 1800 Tequila (375 ml size)

Recipe for Star Anise and Tangerine Infused Vodka

10 star anise pods

1 tangerine, sliced

2 cups potato vodka

Drop star anise and tangerine slices in glass jar that holds at least 3 cups (24 oz) of liquid.  Pour in vodka.  Cover tightly and store in cool place.  Give jar a gentle shake each day to mix.  Allow recipe to infuse for 3 days.  Strain out solids with fine mesh strainer.  Store infused vodka in a jar or bottle.

Let the 3-day infusion party begin!

Let the 3-day infusion party begin!

Organic lettuces

Why Organic Produce IS Worth It

I don’t often write opinion pieces like this, but the recent debate over whether organic produce is any better than conventional has compelled me to speak up.  In a September 4th news post, researchers from Stanford University were reported as saying:

Eating organic fruits and vegetables can lower exposure to pesticides, including for children — but the amount measured from conventionally grown produce was within safety limits.

Really?  I’m not sure I’d like to test this food safety theory, especially on our kids!  Each year, we find out fallacies in what was once thought to be true, safe, and scientifically proven.  How can ANY level of pesticide or toxin be deemed “within safety limits”?  Not to mention that cancers and other serious health issues can arise from a lifetime of ingesting chemicals.  So won’t the accumulation of constantly eating sprayed produce add up to an unsafe limit at some point?

The focus of this particular debate is about nutrition — that organic produce offers no more vitamins or nutrients than conventional produce.  I agree with Marion Nestle’s response in the New York Times that “….nutrients are not the point. The point of organic production is its effects on the health of people and the planet.”

….nutrients are not the point [in this debate]. The point of organic production is its effects on the health of people and the planet.

Here are my responses, as lowly consumer, on the most popular issues with organic produce:

  1. Organic is more expensive.  Depending on the product, sometimes it’s the same price as conventional or not much more.  If the price difference is substantial, I check if the fruit or veggie is on safe end of the EWG’s pesticide residue chart.  I’ll buy conventional onions (49th in pesticide residue) but spring for organic apples (conventional ones are #1 in pesticide residue).  And I figure that my health and the health of my family is more important than saving a dollar here or there.  Check out this post for more money-saving tips.
  2. Organic isn’t more nutritious. Apparently, this is true if you compare vitamins and minerals.  I’m no scientist.  But stop and think for a minute…can organic vs. conventional really be the same — in the way you feel, how your body feels, how the food tastes, etc?  Are you telling me a carrot grown in nutrient-rich soil with no chemicals added really is the same as one grown in pesticide drenched conditions?
  3. Why not grow your own?

    Organic produce is hard to find.  It can be.  But as more consumers demand organic, more farmers are growing organic and more stores and markets are providing it!  The demand will increase the supply. Here are some ways to bring the farm to you, no matter where you live.

  4. “Organic” is a marketing ploy.  I’m sure producers capitalize on organic status for marketing reasons.  But I believe that organic is a way of life.  It affects everyone and everything — farmer, environment, animals, food, consumer.  When I eat organic, I take better care of myself and those around me.  I am a more productive and loving person.  I think better thoughts and exercise more and stress less.  I think organic produce tastes better, so I enjoy and appreciate my food and how it’s nourishing me.  I pay more attention to what I put on my skin and in my home.  I seek out products from companies who are making a positive impact on our world.  So…

Is going organic worth it?  I say, “ABSOLUTELY!” 

What do YOU say?

Watermelon Salad

Tangy Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint

One of my favorite foods to eat during the summer is watermelon.  It’s refreshing, hydrating, nutritious, and oh-so delicious!  This savory-sweet recipe is another way to enjoy nature’s treat that beats summer heat.

Recipe for Tangy Watermelon Salad

3 pounds cubed watermelon (6-7 heaping cups)

3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

Herbs de Provence, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint, tightly packed

4 heaping tablespoons chopped/crumbled feta cheese

Place watermelon in large bowl or separate into serving bowls.  Drizzle white balsamic over watermelon.  It’s important that you cover as much watermelon as possible, as the balsamic will soak directly into the fruit, so use something that allows you more control for pouring.  Add spices and mix gently.  Sprinkle feta and mint on top.  Don’t mix at this point as feta and mint tend to fall to the bottom.

Just add olive oil and you’ve got watermelon vinaigrette!

Important note:  This recipe doesn’t keep well so eat it right away!  It will still taste yummy, but the lake of liquid that forms in the container and the darkening of the watermelon doesn’t make for a nice presentation.  If you do find yourself in that situation–and how do you think I know about this?–there is an upside.  Drain the liquid into a glass jar, add some olive oil, and you’ve got homemade watermelon vinaigrette!  It’s a nice dressing on mixed greens, and imparts all the flavors of the recipe.