Creative Infusions |Inspiration for Flavorful, Homemade Holiday Gifts
There are few things as wonderful to receive as a homemade gift. In a time where we are all looking to feel closer to the people in our lives, be they near or far, taking the time to create something tailored and unique can go a long way toward letting friends and family know just how much they mean to you.
Some skills, like knitting or crocheting, take years to master. Not everyone is a natural baker, not everyone can sew, and not every gardener has the experience (or equipment) to be able to can the fruits of their labor.
If that’s you, no worries. There’s an easy, lowbudget project idea that allows for creative use of upcycled materials and results in tasteful and tasty gifts for multiple occasions. (Or—just make them for yourself!) Consider making infusions as your crafty contribution.
Some of the easiest infusions to make are infused spirits and infused vinegars. Base ingredients are simple to acquire, and the method for infusing both is very similar. Both are easy, fun and allow for flavor creativity to flourish.
The process for creating infused spirits and vinegars is, at its core, simple. Choose your base spirit or vinegar, add ingredients to create your flavor profile, leave it be for a while, strain, and enjoy.
Stock up on supplies
To start, you’ll need some basic supplies that you can probably already find in your home. Collect large, wide-mouth containers, such as Mason jars with plastic or other airtight lids, or upcycle some empty glass containers from your pantry, like large pickle or spaghetti sauce jars. Prep them just before use by washing them in your dishwasher on a sanitize setting.
You will eventually need to strain your finished product, which you can do with coffee filters or cheesecloth, and a kitchen funnel or fine-mesh colander.
Infusions will look wonderful in beautiful decorative bottles. But you don’t need to buy them. Start saving nicely shaped spirits bottles or unusually shaped wine bottles to showcase your finished gift. Save any and all cork toppers like those from spirits bottles, which can be used to stopper various types of glass bottles. Again, you will want to wash and clean them well just before “bottling.”
To begin making infusions, you’ll want as blank a canvas as possible, such as plain vinegar and simple spirits. For vinegar, look for basic white wine, red wine or apple cider varieties. While you can certainly flavor balsamic vinegar, it tends to already have a strong taste, so your newly infused flavors might not stand out.
When choosing spirits, aim for plain vodka, plain light rum, plain white tequilas or basic bourbons and whiskeys. (While you can certainly create your own infused gin, that spirit is already flavored with botanicals like juniper, so it isn’t a blank canvas. However, if you or a gift recipient love flavored gin, start with as basic a gin as possible, and aim to add only one additional flavor.)
As for how much to spend, when it comes to spirits, aim for middle of the road. Don’t buy the least expensive alcohol, hoping your infusion will make it better, and don’t buy an expensive, aged brand, because your infusions will override any subtleties in flavor that make expensive brands worth the cost. With vinegars, aim for better than distilled white vinegar, but don’t buy products like expensive aged balsamic either, the flavor of which will be impacted by your infusions. Mid-priced options will get you a quality base, but nothing extraneous that you don’t need.
For flavors, think about what you like, or what the recipient of your gift might enjoy. While it might be tempting to layer many flavors, you might want to keep it simple, with one or two dominant flavors, so they stand out.
Herbs and fruits will work equally well with both vinegars and spirits. You could make oregano-lemon vinegar, perfect for Greek salads. Or raspberry-blackberry vinegar for summer salads. You could make mint-infused bourbons to kickstart your homemade juleps. Or lemon vodka for Lemon Drops. Want to kick your Bloody Mary up a notch? Make spicy vodka by infusing with hot peppers.
The process couldn’t be simpler, and it’s also very flexible and forgiving. After sanitizing your wide-mouth jars, add your preferred flavor-inducing ingredients, then cover with your spirit or vinegar. Seal and agitate a few times daily. It might look nice steeping on a windowsill in the sunlight, but don’t. Instead, store in a cool location away from direct sunlight. Plan to infuse for at least a week, knowing you can taste it after the first few days to see how it’s progressing and leave it longer if needed.
As for what volume of fruits or herbs to add, there’s no set ratio or recipe. It depends on flavor intensity desired. Some amount of trial and error will be needed to achieve the ideal flavor for each person. However, you can always start with less and add more. Once the liquid has the desired intensity, strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth and funnel into clean bottles.
There is an endless array of options—whatever suits your recipient’s fancy (or your own). However, here are some general suggestions for prepping your ingredients:
Buy organic, and wash well before use: No matter what you buy, aim for organic if possible, so you don’t have to worry about unwanted chemicals. Wash everything with soapy water and rinse well, even the outside of citrus fruits.
Citrus fruits: Orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime peels provide rich oils that will infuse spirits especially with a lovely, deep flavor. Using a sharp peeler, remove only the outer layer of the peel, leaving the pith behind. (Squeeze the insides and save the juice for other uses.) Strain with a mesh sieve instead of coffee filters, which will remove much of the citrus oil.
Herbs: Use only the leaves and not the stems of herbs, to prevent a woody taste. Some classics include mint, basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary—strong flavors that can stand up to both spirits and vinegars.
Berries: Muddle before adding your spirit or vinegar.
Peppers: Slice in half to increase surface area and speed up the infusion process. For milder flavor, remove the pith and seeds—which hold the most heat—before adding.
There are some fun ways to showcase your creations. You can make multiple batches of each, creating gift sets of different flavors. Tie bottles with twine and add decorative labels. Print out cocktail or salad dressing recipes on nice stationery to include with your gift. Wrap bottles with cellophane or cloth, tied with colorful ribbons. Your infusions will impress friends and family with their unique, one-of-a-kind flavors. More importantly, they will charm recipients by showcasing your true gift—time and creativity. ✦
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