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.

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!

Fabric Gift Wrapping

I love a nicely wrapped present.  I also love wrapping presents.  I take after my mother, the original fashion stylist for gifts.  Her adornments turn them into presents wrapped in presents.  I become giddy when I receive one of her works of art.  I want others to feel the same way, so I’ve adopted her inventive techniques for trussing and embellishing.

I must add that I haven’t bought wrapping paper in years.  So how the heck do I dress up my gifts?  I think outside the box, so to speak, by using fabrics and textiles.  Not only am I recycling–and saving money on fancy paper–but wrapping in this way serves as a surprising and beautiful way to present a present.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist the wordplay!  Using fabric is an easy way to deal with unusually shaped presents too.

If you’re a normal person and don’t have any bolts of fabric lying around, you can still take part in the fun.  I’ve used gently worn (and clean!) clothes with cool designs or fun materials.  This comes in handy when part of the fabric becomes damaged, the style is out of fashion, or you’ve grown out of it (either literally or figuratively).  I’ve even used gauzy drapes that lost their usefulness after a move.  Your imagination is the limit!

Note:  Inventive, beautiful wrappings will most likely be lost on children (of all ages) whose only goal is to beat their gift opening time from last year.  Regular wrapping paper would probably be best for them.  But I think the rest of the people on your list will delight in such personalized attention.

The easiest wrapping technique is to spread out the fabric, place the gift in the middle and bring up all the sides to meet above.  Tie the opposing corners into knots…

or use a rubber band and loop through as if you were making a ponytail.  In the picture below, I didn’t pull the fabric all the way through at the end in order to keep everything tucked in.

For this one, I cut a sparkly tank top down a side seam so it would open up, then wrapped as I would with traditional paper, but used a glue gun instead of tape.  The bow was fashioned out of one of the straps.

This is a bridal shower gift, but demonstrates how a tall present could be wrapped.  I used the ponytail tie method but kept the extra fabric for a different look.

I made a gift tag by cutting off a square from a magazine cover (I save decorative cards and pictures for this too) and gluing the inside of a Yogi Tea box on the other side so I could write my message.

Then I punched a hole in one corner and used a pearl twistie thing (probably from one my mother’s past gifts!) to attach it to the bow.

If you don’t have any little bits of string, ribbon, and doodads lying around your house, don’t despair.  It takes time and planning to amass a treasure trove of gift wrapping options.  But if this is the sort of thing you could get into, keep an eye out for things from now on that you could use to wrap and adorn future presents.  You might even see your wrappings or decorations turn up in next year’s presents.  In our family, it’s a big compliment!

Sweet and Spicy Popcorn

No one can resist this popcorn!

I’ve always enjoyed gourmet popcorn.  The ones that come in the big tins, divided, in various flavors.  As a kid, I’d grab tiny fistfuls and delight in their cheddary/chocolaty/toffee-crunchy goodness.  As I became a teenager, I realized that all that stuff on the usually diet-friendly popcorn was anything but, and stayed away from it.  Now I know that the real danger in those tinned temptations is all the preservatives, additives, coloring, and processed sugar and fats…it’s junk popcorn!  But not to fear, you can still enjoy gourmet popcorn, by using quality, natural ingredients like the ones below.  This recipe is sweet with a (medium) spicy kick from chili powder.  If you really crave heat, you’ll want to increase the chili ratio to suit your tastes, but if you’re serving this at a party or giving it as a gift, it’s at a pleasing spice level.

Sweet & Spicy Popcorn

Popped popcorn from basic popcorn recipe (½ cup kernels), omit salt
½ cup Grade B maple syrup
½ cup brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Combine all ingredients, except popcorn, in a pot over medium heat (can use the one you popped your popcorn in, less dishes!).  Swirl the pot around intermittently until the syrup bubbles and begins to reduce–about 5 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and add the popcorn–gradually for better results–and gently stir until properly coated.   The popcorn is really sticky at this point.  Delicious, but sticky.  So to dry it out, prepare two baking sheets covered in aluminum foil (I strongly recommend the heavy-duty type, unless you like to pick bits of foil off your popcorn) or if you can find it, baking parchment paper, and spread the popcorn out in a single layer.  Bake at 300°F for 5-7 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to fully cool.