Homemade infusions: Booze and olive oil

Homemade Christmas cards (like the ones in my last post) are good, but homemade Christmas gifts are even better, particularly when they can be eaten/imbibed/used to intoxicate for maximum flushed-cheek festivity. This year I was inspired by the lush rosemary bush that grows in our back yard. I knew I wanted to make infused booze, but I also wanted to make something for family members who aren’t merrily travelling the road to alcoholism don’t enjoy alcoholic beverages particularly, so I decided to make infused olive oil to use in cooking, for dressing and for dipping.

The best thing about these homemade gifts is that they can be prepared at marginally short notice. The booze infusions take as little as a week to develop the flavourings used, and the oils take about 2 weeks for the flavours to infuse fully. So there is still (just about!) time if you fancy making any of these as gifts for loved ones this Christmas.

ROSEMARY AND CRANBERRY INFUSED GIN

You will need:

  • A glass bottle with an airtight seal (I used 70cl Kilners)
  • Enough gin to fill said bottle
  • A funnel
  • A couple of sprigs of rosemary
  • A handful of fresh cranberries – you could use dried but the fresh ones look really gorgeous, and they’re in all the supermarkets at the moment so easily available

Instructions:

  1. Wash the rosemary and cranberries thoroughly and allow to dry
  2. Sterilise the bottle and funnel, I use boiling water and a fish kettle but any covered receptacle with a lid that’s big enough will do
  3. Place the rosemary and cranberries in the bottle and cover with gin, filling the bottle right up using the funnel
  4. Allow to infuse for as long as your taste dictates

You can infuse this particular mix for anything from 4 days to 4 weeks. I would recommend tasting it after a few days and if the flavours are strong enough for your liking, remove the herbs and berries. If not, let it sit, tasting every so often. You can top it back up with gin – it won’t affect the flavour.

After about 3 days you will notice that the gin takes on a lovely subtle shade of pink, thanks to the cranberries.

Mine has been sitting for a week now and I am considering leaving the rosemary and cranberries in as the flavour is quite subtle (so Julian says!) and they look pretty in the bottle for when they are given to their recipients.

This infusion is lovely with tonic water or muddled with crushed ice and lime for a festive gimlet.

GINGER AND VANILLA INFUSED WHISKEY

You will need:

  • A glass bottle with an airtight seal
  • A funnel
  • Enough whiskey to fill said bottle
  • A hunk of ginger
  • One vanilla pod per 70cl bottle

Instructions:

  1. As above, sterilise the bottle and funnel
  2. Slice the ginger into 4 fingers of about 1.5cm thick each
  3. Place ginger fingers and vanilla pod in bottle, and cover with whiskey, filling the bottle using the funnel
  4. Allow to infuse

In this infusion, the ginger is the dominant flavour, so I chose to remove the ginger after 5 days, leaving the delicate flavour of the vanilla to develop. At this point I am thinking the vanilla pod will remain in the bottle and I will re-add some sticks of ginger just before giving the whiskey to its recipients.

You could use this infusion to make a creamy hot toddy with honey and lemon, or a spicy whiskey mac with ginger wine and crisp ice cubes.

You may have noticed I’m keen to leave the various flavouring components in the booze. What can I say? I’m lazy. When I make sloe gin I leave in the sloes. It just makes the flavour intensify, and nothing’s spoiling as alcohol is a preservative. Also it makes it look homemade. Fancy.

HERB INFUSED OLIVE OIL

I decided to make 3 different types of infused oil, for a bit of variety. I used rosemary, dill and chilli, but you could use anything you like the flavour of, providing it has been dried and properly prepared.

To make one 50cl bottle of oil, you will need:

  • A glass bottle with an airtight lid
  • A funnel
  • Herbs: 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary OR 6 stalks of dill OR 4 dried chillies and a sprinkle of chilli flakes (optional)
  • 50cl olive oil (don’t use extra virgin as it’s more potent so won’t take on the flavour as successfully)

Instructions:

  1. Soak the herbs/chillies in a bowl of water for a few hours, then rinse under a tap and allow to dry thoroughly. It will take a few days for them to dry properly so you can put them in the oven on a low heat if you want to speed things up.
  2. Sterilise the bottle and funnel, as above, and allow to dry thoroughly
  3. Set aside one rosemary sprig, dill stalk or dried chilli to add to the bottle
  4. Heat a stoneware or cast iron pot (heavy-bottomed is better, just make sure not to use non-stick) to a low heat on the hob and add the oil and the remaining herbs at the same time. You don’t want to start frying the herbs, you just want small, sparse bubbles rising to the surface on the olive oil. Something more than a simmer but not high enough to cook – you just want everything to warm up to become open to infusion.
  5. Continue to infuse on a low heat for about 10 minutes, or until you can smell the flavour of the olive oil, then remove from the heat and leave to stand until cooled
  6. Place the rosemary sprig/dill stalk/chilli, that you set aside earlier, in the bottle (if making chilli oil you can also throw in a sprinkling of chilli flakes, depending on your/the recipients taste – more chilli flakes = spicier oil!) – the reason these were set aside is that the herbs infused in the oil will have wilted and lost their colour, so won’t look as vibrant in the bottle
  7. Use the funnel to carefully pour the infused oil into the bottle
  8. Seal and leave to infuse for 2 weeks

Unlike alcohol, oil is not a natural preservative, so you have to be a bit careful to ensure that you dry out any fresh ingredients carefully. Excess water may cause mould to grow on the surface of the herbs, which not only looks grim, but can cause illness such as botulism – lovely! Avoid using fresh ingredients such as garlic and fruits, as it is difficult to dry out these ingredients completely, so better not to risk it.

I would recommend that these oils keep for about 2 weeks (after initial infusion) on the worktop, or up to a couple of months in the fridge – they don’t look particularly good when kept in the fridge as the oil cools and changes form, looking white and lumpy, but it is a good option if you know you won’t use it too often. I included this storage information on the back of the little tags I made to go on the bottle.

I have also made chocolate covered salted caramel pecans and rosemary salted cashews in little jars to give as gifts, but that’s enough homemade wares for one post I think!

If anyone tries making these, do let me know how they turn out. Has anyone else made any other homemade gifts this year? Anything edible or intoxicating? I’d love to see.

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