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Ripe Strawberries, Ripe! (yummy dessert and liqueur recipe)

My kids are currently addicted to the movie “Oliver,” which my mom gave them the DVD of last month. They watched the whole movie once, but since then they just skip around from good song to good song. (And in Oliver, there are a lot of good songs.) Any other theater nerd who read the title to this blog entry probably already has the strawberry-seller’s part from “Who will buy?” in Act II going through their head.  I don’t apologize; it’s lovely, and when I was in high school I wanted to be the strawberry-seller.

But that’s not the point of the post, obviously…the point of the post is that we are in that time of year when strawberries, even organic ones (the only ones I buy–I thought I was allergic to strawberries until I started eating organic ones and had no problem, and then one day bought conventional and had inflamed bumpy lips after one bite.) are delicious and flavorful and cheap. So we tend to buy 2-3 lbs. at a time, and rarely do they sit in the fridge long enough to begin to go bad.

If they do–they get cut up and quickly frozen on a cookie sheet, for later use in smoothies, jam, pie, or whatever. It’s a no-lose situation if you remember that you can always freeze them.

But in the meantime, we’ve got two lovely things we do with them, and I wanted to share those. The first is a lightened-up (i.e. more fruit, less everything else) version of my favorite summer dessert that my mom used to make when we were kids

Strawberry “Pavlova” Dessert:

Rinse, stem, and cut up 3-4 oz. ripe fresh berries per person. (Our 4 family members easily go through a pound in a sitting. We’re gluttons, what can I say?) Pull off the green collars, and cut out the stem parts, but save any berry-like bits you cut off. More later on this.

Crush 1/2-1 vanilla meringue cookie per person into smallish bits (but not powder).

Make whipped cream, or be lazy and evil and use the canned stuff that says “made from real cream.” But the good stuff is so much better.

To serve:

Easy way: Put 1 serving berries into each bowl, sprinkle with crushed meringues, and dollop with whipped cream

Classier for-company way: In a parfait glass, layer 1/2 serving berries, 1/2 serving meringue bits, and dollop whipped cream; then repeat. Garnish with 1 small berry.

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This is seriously good, and really easy to do, and tastes amazingly decadent considering it’s only 3 simple ingredients. You could probably lighten it up a bit more even by substituting vanilla greek yogurt for the whipped cream.

And now…remember how I told you to save any cut-off berry-bits from the de-stemming process?

Fresh Strawberry Liqueur

This is a time-consuming process; it will take a couple of months at least to complete. On the other hand, it takes almost no active working time, so it’s painfully simple for something so good.

Prep: On your kitchen counter, at the beginning of strawberry season, place a clean mason jar. Fill it about halfway with 80-proof vodka, or a half and half solution of Everclear and distilled water. (If you will eat a lot of strawberries, use a quart jar. If you’re doing this for your first time, maybe start witha pint.)

Over strawberry season: Each time you stem and cut up strawberries, save the bits you cut off the hulls, that little bit where you can’t avoid cutting off some fruit. Drop them into the jar-o-booze. (Take off the green leafy collars, but the little stems themselves are no problem; whatever comes off the berries, drop it in the jar.)

When the jar is basically full: once your jar is full enough that the berries are no longer under the surface of the vodka, stop adding. (Or add a little more vodka.) The point is to keep the berries submerged. Shake the jar every couple of days or so. If you were inclined to drop half a vanilla bean in there, it would probably be amazing, though I’ve never tried it.

Alternatively–after a couple of weeks, you could drain the older strawberries out, making room for new–until your solution smells delicious and strawberry-y!

When to drain: Up to a 2 months after starting, or at least two weeks after adding the last berry-bits, strain through cheesecloth or clean muslin or even a coffee filter. Dispose of fruit; save boozy liquid. Call it “Strawberry Vodka” and stop here, if you want. It’s probably delicious as it is. But if you want to go the extra step…

To make the liqueur: If you have 2 cups of strawberry vodka, make a simple syrup out of 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water by heating them together until the sugar melts. (This is supposed to give you 2 cups solution, one of those cool paradoxical things, but I always have some extra.)  Let cool. In a large jar mix equal parts sugar syrup and strawberry vodka. Decant into bottles, label with contents and date you poured, and let mellow in a cool dark place for at least 2-3 months.

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This stuff is seriously good.  And don’t feel like you have to be limited to strawberries either–toss a few raspberries or cherries in there if they are on the verge of turning–pretty much anything except bananas would probably be great.

Let me know if you try this, and how it turns out!

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Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur recipe

Okay, my DIY self couldn’t resist this one…over at Eat Drink Better, Lisa Kivirist posted her recipe for homemade Irish Cream Liqueur. I immediately pulled out the ingredients–or a fair approximation thereof–and gave it a shot.

My verdict? Bearing in mind that I a) never measure things well, b) always halve recipes the first time I make them, c) am even less precise with ingredients when I’m halving recipes, d) am free with substitutions especially when they decrease fat content, like milk for some of the half and half, e) always increase the booze amount in any booze-involving recipe, and f) only had American blended whiskey, no Irish…

LOVELY.  Definitely Irish Cream–this recipe is right on the money.  It tastes…right.  And as Lisa says in her original post, you have total control over your ingredients–fair trade cocoa, grass-fed cream, organic sugar, complete absence of HFCS, and so forth.  Mine was thinner and boozier than probably intended (see D and E above), but still really nice.  I expect after sitting overnight it will be even better.  (Bear in mind that even if I’d used all half and half, it still wouldn’t have that carrageenan-enhanced thickness the bottled stuff does…it’s a little thinner.)

Here’s Lisa’s original recipe (from her Inn Serendipitycookbook, Edible Earth), with notes about my adjustments and questions/issues…

Ingredients:
1 c. dry milk powder (I use Bob’s Red Mill–nice quality and flavor but tends to clump!)
1/3 c. hot water
1/3 c. sugar
3 T. butter (melted)
1 c. half & half cream (I used half milk and half half and half, because it’s what I had.) (Half half and half. That looks funny.)
1 2/3 c. whiskey (Probably increased it by about a third of a cup…and we used American whiskey instead of Irish, because it’s what we have.)
1 t. instant coffee
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. almond extract
1 T. cocoa powder
2 T. sugar

Directions:
*  Mix the dry milk powder, hot water, sugar and melted butter in a blender (this is the equivalent of one standard can of sweetened condensed milk; feel free to use in other recipes). (My note: I got a thick paste here; I can’t understand how possibly that amount of powder mixed with that amount of liquid, hot or not, could wind up acting like condensed milk.  Although the idea of making my own sweetened condensed milk is a nice thing to know about!)
*  Add all other ingredients and blend for about 30 seconds. (Again, because of the paste issue, I had a little trouble here and had to scrape it down a good bit before everything would blend nicely)
*  Keep refrigerated.  Will last about two weeks refrigerated. (I’m betting this two weeks could be deeply extended, but that’s my own business.  I’d never advise anyone else to keep it longer…)

This one is a keeper! Happy–hic!–New Year!

Making herbal and fruit liqueurs at home

Last night I spent hours in the kitchen, and when I was done these were in my fridge:

liqueurs

We ended up with one large bottle of “Melissamint” liqueur, which is a combination of mint and lemon balm (melissa officinalis), one slightly less large bottle of orange mint, and one bottle of tart cherry.  And one small bottle of “drunken cherries,” which are essentially the fruit leftover for the cherry liqueur soaked in sugar syrup, which strike me as possibly the most delightful way to get stinkingly smashed that I can possibly think of.

In another post, I gave my recipes for making herbal tinctures and liqueurs…essentially, you soak whatever it is in some clear flavorless booze, either 80-100 proof vodka or a half and half mixture of distilled water and grain alcohol for anywhere from two weeks to two months, drain it through cloth or coffee filter or something, and then mix equal parts of simple sugar solution (equal parts sugar and water heated till the sugar dissolves) and your drained herb-infused alcohol. Bottle and wait a couple more months.  Takes a long time, but it’s actually really easy.

This time specifically: I’d made a large jar of orange mint tincture, out of a combination of orange mint from the garden and one orange worth of zest and juice.  I also had a good amount of last season’s lemon balm tincture still in a jar in the garage.  So I made two different potions: One of straight mint with sugar solution, and one half and half with lemon balm.

Now, all of these need a couple of months to deepen and mellow, but I always do initial taste tests to see where they started and what direction they are heading.

The Orange Mint Liqueur was very good, very strong and minty.  In hindsight, two oranges would have been good; the citrus is only present as a very faint aftertaste; still, it’s a nice bright -tasting drink despite its rather nondescript brown color.  And there is a good chance that the mint will calm down and the orange will assert a little more as it ages. We shall see.  This is likely to be used as Christmas gifts for some of those friends whom we know we can give liqueurs to.

The Melissamint liqueur is much more “herbal” tasting, and much more complex.  We make tea out of mint and balm together all the time, so I’m not surprised this combination is really nice in a liqueur also.   It’s a sort of syrupy dark brown, mostly from the balm, which gets really gooey and hard to strain.  But it’s very nice.  This also should age well. And this will likely be drunk mostly by my husband.

The Tart Cherry liqueur, the one that came from the beginning-to-be-overripe farmers market cherries three weeks ago, is a deep rich gorgeous ruby red; one almost doesn’t care what it would taste like, it looks so pretty. My husband, when he tasted it, said immediately, “It tastes like cough syrup.” When I kicked him, he said, “No, I like cough syrup!”  I have to admit, to anyone who grew up taking cherry-flavored cough medicine, the similarity will be hard to escape.  I didn’t take too much of that stuff as a kid (Hated it, actually), so I’m not quite as saddled with the association.  What I taste is a nice delicate cherry flavor, very genuine and with just enough tartness to balance the sweet of the sugar syrup.  This one, actually, could probably have been a much less sweet drink and been even nicer. (That cough syrup thing.)  I may play with this one a bit–while some I will leave alone, it does make me wonder what could happen if I mixed it with some other herbal flavors, perhaps some of the more savory or even floral ones–I wonder what cherry chamomile would be like, for example?

That fourth little bottle, as I said, was the leftover cherries that I couldn’t bear to throw away. I mixed them with more of the sugar syrup and bottled them.  In hindsight I should have left them alone, or maybe poured orange juice or something over them instead–they taste, I sadly confess, a lot like cough syrup now, whereas when they were fresh out of the alcohol they were just insanely intoxicated cherries.

And now I’m going to go have a glass of last year’s lemon balm liqueur…

peace,

J

Life’s a bowl of cherries…so I’m making liqueur.

One of the downsides of buying all this lovely fresh fruit is when we forget about it until it’s just on the side of not being any good any more.  (Unfortunately, we have this weird habit where, if it’s not really good to eat but not really gross yet, we tend to wait a few days until it is really gross, and then throw it out. Dopey.  Wasteful. Eew.)

Anyway, the above was on the verge of happening with a lovely container of tart cherries I got at the market last week.  I honestly didn’t so much care for them, I like the sweet ones better, but once these got very ripe they were actually pretty good.  But there were still some left, and they weren’t going to last…

So, when in doubt, pickle it in alcohol! This is an untested recipe and will remain unverified for at least 2 weeks as a sample run and more like 2 months for a real assessment, but here goes:

Tart Cherry Liqueur

Phase 1

  • pit by squooshing a bunch of ripe tart cherries. (Or you can be neat and pit them nicely and then chop them up.  Or you can be like me and just leave the pits in the jar with the fruit.)
  • Don’t wear a white shirt while doing this.
  • Put them into a clean dry jar; ideally, the fruit should fill it about 2/3-3/4 of the way with juicy, squished up fruit.
  • Pour clear vodka (80-100 proof) or a half and half mixture of grain alcohol and distilled water (90-ish proof) over cherries to fill the jar. (Jar should be full.)
  • Label your jar and let it sit, turning and shaking it every few days, for 2-4 weeks.

Phase 2

  • Drain cherries through cheesecloth, muslin, or a coffee filter, reserving (doh) liquid in a Pyrex or other measuring cup  Try to squeeze every bit of juice out. (If you dare, nibble on the pickled fruit.  But not before you have to drive anywhere.)
  • Make a simple sugar syrup: heat equal amounts of sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar is completely dissolved; let cool.
  • Mix equal amounts sugar syrup and cherry-infused alcohol. Mix well.
  • Bottle and label; store in cool dry place for at least 2 months to mellow

Phase 3

  • After mellowing time is completed, if desired, rebottle into smaller or nicer bottles; if there is sediment, if you like, let it stay on the bottom of the original. (We usually keep our sediment, actually.)
  • Enjoy responsibly.  Remember that at this point you have a beverage that is somewhere between 20% and 25% alcohol, or 40-50 proof.

I’ll update this one as the stuff keeps working!

peace,

J

Potion-making! (Tincture, liqueur, and herbal vinegar)

I put my first potions of the season up today: the first step for orange-mint liqueur, and lemon balm vinegar.

Liqueur is an easy but seriously time-consuming process.  It’s similar to making “tincture,” which is basically extract of fresh herb in alcohol.  (Glycerine tinctures are available as well, and they are good, but they don’t get as many of the alkaloids from the plant as the alcohol.)

Herb Tincture Recipe

chop up enough clean fresh herb to fill a clean jar 2/3-3/4 of the way full. (I use a food processor for this–one of the only things I use it for.) 

(Note: what part of the herb you use will depend on the herb itself, and what part of it has the medicinal qualities you are looking for.  St. John’s Wort is usually “flowering tops,” which means the top part of the stems and leaves that mostly include the flowers.  Lemon balm and mint and such are herbs where the virtue is mostly in the leaves, and you want to get the leaves when they’re still basically young and tender.  Echinacea is debated–most agree that the root is the most medicinal part, but I personally have always preferred the “whole plant” echinacea extract–flower to root, all tinctured together. This is a subject for a whole bunch of other posts, but I wanted to at least mention it…)

Over the chopped herb in the jar, pour 100 proof alcohol of some kind–easiest and cheapest route for this is a half and half combination of 190 proof grain alcohol (i.e. Everclear or Spiritus) and distilled water. (Yes, do use distilled water rather than tap.) If you can find 100 proof vodka, that’s fine too.  And honestly, if you’re making the tincture in order to make liquer, rather than for trying to squeeze every last bit of medicinal alkaloid out of the plant, 80 proof  vodka will work just fine.  Try to fill the jar all the way to the top; the less air it has to react with, the better.

LABEL YOUR JAR.  Write what you put in it, and most importantly when you made it.  Be as completely obsessive about labelling your potions as you possibly can, or you will forget.

Let the herb/alcohol mixture steep in a cool dark place for about 2-4 weeks for liqueur grade, 6-8 weeks for medicinal grade tincture. Shake the jar every couple of days; this will keep any of the herb that emerges over the top from oxidizing too much and/or growing things you don’t want growing there. (It has to sit a long time for that to happen, though–remember, your herb is pickling in pretty strong alcohol in there.)  It’s not an exact science, just kind of try to remember to give it a turn every once in a while.

After your preferred steeping time is up, drain the liquid through a coffee filter, cheesecloth, or muslin; squeeze out every last bit of liquid from your herbs.

You now have tincture–herbal extract.  Medicinally, you can put a few drops into water or juice; some tinctures (lemon balm, lavender) are okay to just drip into your mouth onto your tongue, but some can be too strong for that, so be careful.

To make it into liqueur, you now have a few more steps and a couple more months:

Make a simple sugar solution, equal in amount to the amount of tincture you want to make into liqueur. As in, if you have 2 cups of tincture, make a solution by mixing 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water over heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Let cool.

Mix together sugar solution and tincture in equal parts in a bottle or jar. Label it. (If you wish, you might note on the label that what’s in there is about 45-50 proof.) Let it cure for 6 weeks to whenever, tasting it periodically to see how it’s doing.

By Christmastime, if there’s any left, pour into pretty bottles you’ve saved from liqueurs or vinegars or whatever you think would be nice, put pretty labels on, and give as gifts.  If you really want to do that. These liqueurs are pretty good.

For vinegar, you basically do exactly the same thing–chop the herb, let it steep in vinegar for a few weeks, drain, and re-bottle.  Lemon balm and Tarragon are great for this…