Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November Conservation Tip

Put some aroma in your life!

When it comes to food, nothing beats homemade. In my opinion. It's made with love and you can choose the ingredients. I would much rather receive or give away something homemade than something fancy made with ingredients I can't even pronounce. 
After the recipients of my homemade gifts are now well stocked with jams, jellies and salsa, I wanted to come up with something new. Infused oils seemed to be an easy to make and an easy to please idea. I tried my three favorite flavors, lemon, basil and rosemary. Well, the lemon one turned out ok, the basil one molded before I even could try it (luckily, as I found out later) and the rosemary one looked nice with a whole branch of rosemary sticking in a decorative bottle, but didn't taste that much of rosemary.....hmmm, nothing to be proud of and certainly nothing to give away as present.
But there is a solution to every problem and mine came in the form of a brochure of the nearby College of the Rockies offering a class on Infusing Oils and Vinegars. As I read that the instructor would be Danielle Cardozo, a Masterchef Canada competitor whose every episode I watched on TV, I signed up right away.

I'm glad I did!
After a quick introduction, Danielle showed us the most common vinegars and oils

and explained in detail which ones worked best for infusions and which ones are better for other uses.
We tasted every one of the oils and vinegars present to get an idea of the different flavors.

White Balsamic vinegar was new discovery to me and I have to say, I really like it.

Then we went over some of the ingredients and do's and don'ts when it comes to infusing oil and vinegar. Here I learned why my basil oil went bad and how lucky I was not to have tried it. All fresh herbs and other ingredients that contain water, as for example basil and garlic, can harbor bacteria. Enclosed in oil, anaerobic bacteria as the Colstridium botulinum, can thrive. This particular bacterium is rather common and produces a neurotoxin that can be deadly. Danielle advised us strongly to use up oil with fresh ingredients within a few days and store it in the refrigerator. Or use dried herbs and dried garlic for infusions with a longer shelf life. Only exception to the rule is citrus zest, since it's "liquid" is oil not water based. Also dried herbs generally produce a more flavorful infusion if they get grounded up in a mortar before use.

For inspiration, Danielle had prepared some oil and vinegar infusions ahead of the workshop, and had us taste these before we went to work with our own creations. I could have spent the rest of the time just dipping away, that's how yummy they were.
Nevertheless, we put on our aprons and let our imagination run. Since I like citrus and mango a lot, I started with a mango vinegar and a citrus oil. I tried a few more and will share my two favorite concoctions below.

Most recipes for infused oils and vinegars I came across so far, had me mix the ingredients and then wait for a couple of weeks....Danielle though has a different approach, which I, impatient as I am, like much better. Mix your ingredients and then heat your oil or vinegar up to 65-85˚ C / 150-185˚ F. Best in a water bath and for up to 8 hours.

She brought her great SousVide to class which keeps the set temperature for as long as you want, and we all dropped our infusions in there, amazing what this machine can hold. A few of the recipes though were calling for reductions and there came some tempting smells from the stove.

While all our creations were infusing, Danielle sat down with us for some Q&A and of course we all wanted to hear about her Masterchef experience. Danielle confessed to have been a fan of the US and Australian Masterchef series and watching them with her kids. As the Canadian version got announced, her daughter urged her to apply. A few weeks later she had an interview over the phone and got invited right away to an audition in Calgary for which she had to cancel a vacation to Mexico. Shortly after that she competed very successfully in the first Masterchef Canada. I can only imagine what a logistical nightmare it must have been to leave kids and job for up to 44 days and travel to the other end of Canada, no phone, no contact allowed.
Danielle describes the time as a contestant life changing, intense and one she doesn't want to have missed but she is happy to now have her "normal" life back.

We all were spellbound and "smellbound" and only reluctantly pulled our infusions out of the SousVide.

That evening, as you can guess, we had bread and dipping oil and vinegar as appetizer.

As promised, here my two favorite infusions:

Cranberry, cinnamon and vanilla vinegar:
Cut dried cranberries in small pieces, give into a pint mason jar and cover with white balsamic vinegar until just covered for about 1 hour. Add a pinch of cinnamon and about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Fill up the mason jar with white balsamic vinegar and close lid. Infuse for 8 hours. Strain and fill into a sterilized bottle. Store cool and dark.
This would make a great host gift for a Thanksgiving invitation....

Since I don't have a SouseVide and are not so much a fan of plastic anyway, I use mason jars. But any container that can be closed and heated up to 65-85˚ C / 150-185˚ F should do. For the "infusion process" I put the mason jars in my canner and filled the canner with enough water to almost cover the jars. I played with my stove settings until I found the right setting to keep the water at a temperature around about 75˚ C/165˚ F, and just left it in there for 8 hours.

Lemon and anise vinegar:
Combine the zest of an well washed organic orange and lemon with enough white balsamic to fill a pint mason jar, add anise to taste, a little goes a long way. Proceed as described above.

It's only coincidence that I chose two vinegars, the procedure would be the same with oil. In the tasting my favorite vinegar for infusions by far was the white balsamic vinegar, with the oils it was sawflower and light olive oil. But I recommend to give different oils and vinegars a try and see for yourself.

I asked Danielle if she had a favorite cook book on infusions, she smiled and answered:"...the internet".
Here you go, just let your taste buds be the limit and give it a try. Infused oils and vinegars make great host gifts or Christmas presents, or score with homemade infusions at your next dinner party.

P.S. If you live in the Kootenays, keep checking out the College of the Rockies schedule. Hopefully they will offer the workshop again!

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