A note for those who came here via the PPK 100 of 2012 – Thanks for stopping by! The following is an account of how to make your own bitters via individual tinctures. If you’re looking to make your own syrups for drinks, per #52, check out my Rhubarb & Rangpur Lime syrup and Hot Chili, Lime & Sea Salt syrup. If you’re looking to make your own homemade liqueurs, check out this account and DIY Kahlua guide here.
The Art of Bitters
After months of intimidation, inspiration and advice from friends, I found myself [finally] wandering into the world of homemade bitters. Bitters are considered the “salt and pepper” of the cocktail world, and as an amateur mixologist with my own liqueurs behind me, it was clearly the next step towards my own speakeasy. I spent weeks debating the method of collective, set tincture mixtures with fancy names over the curious production of dozens among what became dozens of individual flavors thanks to serious tinctures. I could make a couple of my own from-scratch combinations, or many, many little jars later, I could dedicate to the exploration of somewhat endless custom blends. A warming, Thai-spiced? Northwest Autumn? Italian Summer? Bordeaux Bistro? Yeah, that would be it. An ever-changing list of regions and silly seasonal directions are totally ahead.
My bases basically came down to fresh flavors (lemongrass, fig, citrus peels, galangal, ginger, mint, etc.) immersed in grain alcohol and dried herbs and roots held in jars of vodka. I picked up the base ingredients from Stone Cottage, a great local herb store in SE (where nearly all my finds were organic), Kruger’s Hawthorne Farm Stand, Fubonn, and simply found others in my pantry. The liquid bases, bottom shelf vodka and neutral grain alcohol, such as Everclear.
Just over two weeks later, I have begun straining and I’m itching to build some unique combinations that just may last forever…
My collection now holds over twenty tinctures total, from the traditional herbs, fresh fruits flavors and the slightly more avant-garde, if you will:
Blood orange peel
Wild cherry bark
Chai & black tea
Kaffir lime leaf
….not to mention the bottles of both vodka and bourbon based vanilla extracts, vanilla cardamom, hazelnut, and cinnamon tinctures already made on my shelf.
I swear, I received wonderfully nerdy advice on alcohol content and levels from a dear herbalist friend and dove into a wee bit of research over here, but my basic rule was what I mentioned above: grain alcohol for the fresh bits and vodka for the dried, all covered until totally immersed.
Essentially, what you’re doing is just that, extracting the essence of these fresh and dried ingredients into a tincture. Do shake and stir your tinctures on a regular basis, it’s a fascinating process to witness, and smell.
All that’s stopping me so far from creating custom blends is the lack of bottles and eye droppers, so it’s time to get legit, as in….I so, so should have done that today.
My cocktail making is about to get real.
The majority of these bases were created within a 48 hour period, but I spent the next few days realizing that I simply had include Thai basil, serrano pepper, cacao nibs and chai tea in on the fun.
It’s been a fascinating process that reminds me that I’m out of bourbon…
Another project that’s been just as fascinating and taught me patience is culturing my own vegan cheeses.Artisan Vegan Cheese is surely one of the most influential , revolutionary vegan cookbooks to date, and I’ve been working my way across it since last summer and my very first rejuvelac experience. I’ve now made dozens of yogurt and nut-based cheeses alike, and can’t seem to stop. Finally, I am capturing that long-missed tang!
I’m forever picking up pouches of agar from Fubonn (and always adding more to the recipes), stocking up on crackers, and even bought carrageenan (whoa). I really have so much to say, but even less to show, since my first few months of my cheese-making adventures were spent in between malfunctioning cameras. I’ve spent a great deal experimenting with soaked sunflower seeds and substituting yogurt cheese into the treenut-based recipes, sometimes with horrific results, and sometimes it was swell. My cashew woes have fortunately seemed to subside a bit, and I have enjoyed a taste here and there. The favorites so far, through my numerous endeavors, have been the melty mozzarella, air-dried parmesan, melty cheddar and hard gruyere with peppercorns.
Here’s some more of my recent cheese-making…
Hard Gruyère with Peppercorns
Boursin Spread (pureed)
This was rich, creamy, and will so be repeated in our kitchen: Chow’s Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese, veganized, with a smokey take on the Artisan Vegan Cheese Melty Cheddar. I cultured the cheese an extra day due to the cold. Hello, Earth Balance, soymilk and hot sauce.
Smokey stovetop mac & cheese, served with roasted chickpeas and sautéed collards.
J. Legume’s cheese plate turned this afternoon into an indoor picnic, featuring fresh mozzarella (the rest of which became a jalapeno, sun-dried tomato & garlic take on the cream cheese, for real) and more hard gruyère.
Cinnamon-blueberry-hemp seed granola. I’ll probably get to this next time around, but hey, I’m not buying any packaged granola, that’s for sure.
The last project I’ll share today is more of a continuing obsession with aromatic yet frugal cooking (you know, ignore everything else you’ve seen in this post, it’s about balance and whatnot) and wanting to travel and taste every cuisine I can reach. This time, it was from my own kitchen via the library and thanks to the absolutely gorgeous and inspiring Mangoes & Curry Leaves. The book is a captivating story of recipes and travel covering India’s expanses, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan. Another story I’d like to interpret one day.
Many recipes caught my eye and I could practically smell the spices warming, page by page, but I only had time for one during our time together, a potato curry from Pakistan that I added chickpeas into. It was golden and just so satisfying.
And lesson learned: your girlfriend just may prefer yellow mustard seeds.
Next up, announcing the long-delayed winner of the Vegan Sandwiches contest, tacos & margaritas in Austin, revamped homemade Kahlua (which is totally on par with bitters and a new cocktail creation), an Isa Does It testing round-up, New York dining, more projects, recipes, and maybe even a social media rant.
Speaking of, check this out for the latest in my little world.