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!

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potato casseroleDuring the holidays, people get a hankering for sweet potato casserole.  You know, that dish made up of sweet potatoes, marshmallows, and brown sugar?  My problem with this traditional side is it’s often made from canned sweet potatoes (full of corn syrup) and ends up being cloyingly sweet.  But since it’s one of my husband’s favorite parts of holiday meals–and I admit my eyes light up when I see it too–I was determined to make a healthier version.

I baked my own sweet potatoes, which isn’t much harder than opening cans…just takes time and a little planning.  And fresh is so much tastier and healthier than canned!  To save time on the day of, bake sweet potatoes and scoop out the flesh the day before.  I found some natural-ish marshmallows at Whole Foods.  Obviously, marshmallows are not found in nature–and due to their odd consistency there is no way to have a completely natural version–but this brand seemed least wacky.  I used Grade B maple syrup as sweetener, which lends a richer flavor (with vitamins and minerals!) than ordinary sugar.  I added some (again, natural-ish) crushed graham crackers on top for a fun twist.

Don’t forget to check out my recipe for Fresh Spiced Cranberry Sauce, the perfect condiment for Thanksgiving turkey!

Baked sweet potatoes

Best ingredients I’ve seen for marshmallows

First layer of casserole

Sweet potato casserole ready to go into oven

Recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole

  • sweet potatoes, scrubbed and rubbed with olive oil
  • 1 package marshmallows – I used Elyon brand
  • Grade B maple syrup
  • cinnamon
  • graham crackers, crushed/crumbled – I used Back to Nature Honey Graham Sticks

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Scrub sweet potatoes, pat dry, and rub with olive oil.  Place on baking sheet and bake until can pierce deeply with ease, about 1 hour.  Cut potatoes in half lengthwise.  Scoop out flesh into large bowl.  Mash thoroughly.  Spread an inch or two of sweet potato into baking dish.  Dot with marshmallows, sprinkle with cinnamon, and drizzle maple syrup lightly.  Add rest of sweet potato mash and marshmallows.  Reminder: Marshmallows will expand so no need to pack tightly.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle maple syrup.  Bake at 350°F until marshmallows puff up and melt, about 10 minutes.  Add graham cracker crumbs on top and lightly press into marshmallows.

Fresh Spiced Cranberry Sauce

When I was a kid, I thought all cranberry sauce came out of a can in one big can-shaped jelly mold.  I thought it tasted OK, but something about it was weird and unnatural.  Then many years later I discovered that cranberry sauce could look like, well, sauce.  And it tasted so…delicious.  After that day, I just couldn’t bear to buy the jelly-roll-thing-in-a-can again.

While homemade cranberry sauce does take longer to make than opening a can, I think it’s totally worth it.  And my taste buds agree.  If you’re in a real pinch, or simply will faint if you have to make one thing more thing for the holidays, you could add the spices to a store-bought can of whole cranberry sauce (please stay away from the jelly!).  I promise not to say anything, as long as you pledge to try this recipe later.  OK, now that we’ve done the pinkie swear thing…..

This would be a great sauce to accompany any white meat, which you probably already guessed.  But I encourage you to try it with other foods too, such as swirled into oatmeal or yogurt, dolloped onto vanilla ice cream, or stuffed into baking apples.  I bet you could come up with some fun ways to use it for holiday hors d’oeuvres too.

Recipe for Fresh Spiced Cranberry Sauce

makes about 1½ cups of sauce

  • 1½ cups filtered water
  • ¾ cup sucanat (dehydrated, freshly squeezed sugar cane juice with a natural molasses flavor)
  • 1 (12-oz) bag fresh cranberries – Equals 3 cups
  • ½-1 teaspoon (packed in) freshly grated orange peel – I really enjoyed the stronger taste of orange, but if you only want a hint, try ½ tsp
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional) – It’s great without, but cardamom is such a warm, holiday-ish spice, it’s perfect for this time of year
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour water and sugar into medium pot and heat to a boil, stirring.  Add cranberries and bring to boil again.  Simmer, covered, until cranberries pop and mixture thickens a little (about 15-20 minutes).  Turn off heat.  Stir in rest of ingredients.  Let sit until cools.  Transfer sauce to glass container and chill in fridge until thickens (don’t worry, it will firm up!).

Have a tasty holiday season!

4 Wintertime Tips for a Healthy, Holistic Kitchen

Just as our wardrobes change as we transition into winter, so should our homes.  One of the most important places to make a few tweaks is in the kitchen.  I asked natural foods chef, Andrea Beaman, and organic recipe queen, Carrie Vitt, for their top wintertime tips for creating a healthy, holistic kitchen.

1.  Stock up on bone broths

“For me a holistic healthy kitchen in the winter time includes lots of homemade stock in the freezer (fish stock, chicken stock, duck stock).  It’s a great mineral and amino acid rich broth to use in warming soups and stews.  I think stocks are so important to any home kitchen that I have an entire chapter dedicated to stocks in my new book: Health is Wealth – Make a Delicious Investment in You!

~ Andrea Beaman, Natural Foods Chef, author, and television host dedicated to alternative healing and green, sustainable living.  Try her Basic Beef Bone Stock and Chicken Stock.

Carrie's chicken stock recipe in action

I always keep it [homemade chicken stock] on hand in the freezer for when the first sign of a cold arrives.

~ Carrie Vitt, author of Deliciously Organic: Simple Dishes, Vibrant Flavors Everyone will LoveShe makes a tasty immune-building chicken stock that incorporates the whole bird (cooked chicken and broth, a two-fer!). 

2.  Cook with coconut oil

Carrie often uses coconut oil when whipping up one of her fabulously healthy meals because of its antiviral properties.  It’s also safe for high heat cooking, making it a great all-purpose cooking oil.  When the temperatures drop, coconut oil will solidify; but it melts easily.

Side note:  As I mentioned in this post, I use coconut oil (separate batch for hygiene) as a moisturizer too.  It melts in seconds when applied to skin warm from a hot shower.  It’s antiviral/antibacterial properties work topically too, so you’re moisturizing and protecting at the same time.

3.  Keep immune-boosting supplements on hand

Carrie also recommends her favorite vitamin C powder–Pure Radiance C, made from organic and wild berries–as a supplement to support immune health during flu season.

I swear by Thieves Essential Oil blend from Young Living.  It has 100% therapeutic-grade essential oils of clove, cinnamon, lemon, eucalyptus, and rosemary that combine to deliver antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibacterial protection.  During times of stress (hello holidays!) and flu season this oil, along with Inner Defense Softgels (which also contain Thieves but with oregano, thyme, and lemongrass) give me a fighting chance of staying healthy.

4.  Sharpen your knife skills

No, you don’t need to practice knife throwing or even perfect your slicing technique.  All you have to do is sharpen your main prep knife.  Why?  Dull knives don’t just make hard winter veggies difficult to cut, they are a more serious hazard to your health than sharp knives.  Most knife injuries occur due to dull blades, which need more pressure to cut, making it more likely for the knife to slip off food and cut your hand instead.  Not a jolly good time.  If you don’t have a knife sharpener (or don’t know how to use the one you have), you can get them sharpened at hardware stores, cooking retailers, and some restaurants.  A Japanese restaurant in my neighborhood offers the service for $5.00. (These are NYC prices, so they’re probably cheaper elsewhere.)  No excuses…remain sharp for safety!