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.

Mocha Protein Shake

Mocha Protein ShakeThis is the perfect drink to have before or after a challenging workout. It’s packed with protein, some carbs, other good-for-you-stuff (details below), and it tastes like an iced mocha coffee! Post-workout, get this into your system within 30-60 minutes after exercise to feed those hungry muscles. Sipping this shake before your workout helps fight fatigue and powers your muscles up for action…but do so an hour before to allow time for digestion.

Why this shake’s ingredients work for your workout:

  • Protein powder – Weight-lifting and vigorous exercise tear down the fibers of our muscles (we build muscle when the body repairs those fibers). Our bodies need protein to use for the repair process. There are tons of protein powders out there but many are full of weird, unnatural ingredients. Thanks to Gary Collins, I discovered Jay Robb protein powder and was really impressed with the “clean” and simple ingredients.
  • Banana – Provides the quick carbs you need after a workout to help repair your muscles. This is the best time to consume a moderate amount of natural sugars because your body will use it instead of store it. (Yep, there IS an ideal time to eat that piece of dark chocolate…)
  • Coffee – When we expend energy…we get tired! Unless your workout is at the end of the day, or you’ve penciled in some nap time, you’ve still got stuff to do! Coffee not only wakes you back up but studies show caffeine also helps reduce muscle soreness.
  • Coconut oil – After a tough workout, our muscles need extra nutrients. Coconut oil acts as a transport system, getting valuable nutrients from the food we eat afterward into our muscles by helping us secrete insulin. While working out helps our health in the long run, it can actually break down our immune system in the short-term. Plus, gyms are notoriously germy! The antiviral, antibacterial properties of the lauric acid in coconut oil give our immune systems the extra boost in protection it needs. For more explanation of why coconut oil is so good for you, check out this article by Dr. Mercola in The Huffington Post.
  • Maca powder – The magical maca root has a myriad of helpful benefits. The ones that pertain to post-workout are: Speeds up recovery; increases energy endurance and stamina; helps circulation. Want to know more? Take a look at this great article I found.
  • Raw cacao powder – This isn’t your commercial powdered chocolate! Raw cacao powder is powered up with antioxidants. It also contains magnesium, which helps relax muscles and promotes a feeling of calmness.
  • Cinnamon – This flavorful spice reduces inflammation in the body. Another plus is its sweet taste with no real sugar.
  • Sea salt – We know that sweating depletes our electrolytes, but don’t reach for the Gatorade or other “sports drinks” that add artificial colors, flavors, and sugars. Sea salt is just as effective in replacing electrolytes, without all the nasty stuff our bodies aren’t meant to ingest. Not all salt is created equal, nor is salt something we need to avoid. Read Debunking the Salt Myth for the real (salt) scoop.

For about 250 calories (based on 120-calorie protein powder), you’re got a nutrient-packed meal that will prepare you for or replenish your body after tough workouts. Have a fit summer!

Recipe for Mocha Protein Shake

Makes about 20 ounces

  • Coconut milk1 cup coffee or mixture with other liquid – I like ¾ cup coffee with ¼ cup almond or coconut milk (Get the unsweetened, no sugar variety, like pictured example)
  • 1 serving vanilla protein powder
  • ½ medium banana (whole banana if long or strenuous workout)
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil (optional) – Melt the oil first before measuring if it’s solid
  • 1 teaspoon maca powder
  • 1 teaspoon raw cacao powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pinch sea salt (one-eighth teaspoon) – Examples of quality salt are Himalayan Crystal Salt and Real Salt
  • ice

Add ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

“Not Your Classic” Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms on waxed paperI love mushrooms.  But I don’t love most stuffed mushrooms.  I have a problem with the consistency of the “classic version” (a paste), and if they aren’t right out of the oven, the consistency is even more troubling on its way toward cold.  So I made a “unclassic”–not to be confused with unclassy–version of stuffed mushrooms.  Un-blended, un-mushed, and un-pasty.  Your taste buds won’t will be un-happy.

Because I originally made this appetizer for a party, and there’s quite a bit of prep work, I made more than you would need on a normal night.  If you’re only serving a few people–or just yourself–you can still do the prep but only bake what you need and store the rest in the fridge.  Two days later, my leftover prepped mushrooms were still just as delicious as the first day.

Store extra mushrooms in fridge until ready to bake

Store extra mushrooms in fridge until ready to bake

For serving at a party, only bake as many as will be eaten right away, then bake as needed.  Note:  If you use a pre-heated toaster oven, you may only need to bake them for 10 minutes…they’re done when you see sizzling juice around the mushrooms and the cheese is melted/golden.  While the mushrooms are cooling, transfer them to paper towels or other material to soak up excess liquid to prevent mushiness from setting in (or juices squirting out when you take a bite!).  You could also line a basket or tray with a napkin or waxed paper and serve them that way.  Note for party planning:  The bigger the mushrooms, the harder it is to eat in one bite, which is what you want for a finger food menu.  

If you or your guests don’t eat pork, make sure you use quality thyme and add any other spices if needed to boost flavor.

Stuffed mushrooms closeup

Recipe for “Not Your Classic” Stuffed Mushrooms

  • Yields approximately 35 stuffed mushrooms
  • Prep time: 45 minutes
  • Bake time: 20-25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 packages (8 ounces each) mushrooms – I used the button/white variety, but cremini mushrooms work too
  • 2 pieces bacon, nitrate/nitrite-free
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup minced shallots (about 1 large)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • sea salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • shaved/shredded parmesan cheese, enough for a pinch on top of each mushroom

Directions:

 

Fry bacon in large pan until crispy, then remove and let cool.  While bacon is cooking, clean mushrooms with damp cloth.   Separate mushroom stems from caps, being careful not to tear the caps.  Finely chop stems.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Add olive oil to bacon fat left behind from cooking and saute stems and shallots over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring often.  Add garlic, a couple pinches of salt, a few twists of pepper, and thyme, cooking for 2 more minutes.  Turn off heat and stir in parsley and finely chopped bacon.  Taste and add spices if necessary.  Toss mushroom caps with olive oil.  Use small spoon to stuff stem mixture into mushroom caps.  Press curved outside of spoon down into mixture to pack in.  Don’t overstuff.  Top each cap with a pinch of parmesan.  Bake 20-25 minutes on baking sheet.  Transfer mushrooms to paper towels or cloth while cooling to soak up excess liquid.

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!

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.