Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Triple Sec and Orange Extract

This is the end of my citrus-themed block of blog posts. I know you all have been patiently waiting for me to get to the good stuff: the booze. In my last couple recipes I’ve been saving Orange zest and putting it into a jar with vodka. When the jar was filled, I let it sit, patiently. Today I present two recipes for turning this mixture into Triple Sec for drinking and Orange Extract for baking (and emergency drinking).

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Orange Extract

  • Orange Zest (peels with the white pith removed) [1]
  • Vodka (stronger is better [2])

Put the orange zest in a jar. Fill with vodka. Put the lid on it. Go watch TV.

In a few weeks[3] (I hope you didn’t spend that entire time in front of the tube!) you should have delightful orange extract. Strain out the peels. Put the mixture into a nice-looking jar and keep it somewhere out of reach of direct sunlight and unattended teenagers.

Triple Sec

  • Orange Zest (peels with the white pith removed)
  • Vodka (Stronger is better)
  • Simple Syrup [4]

Put the orange zest in a jar. Fill with vodka. Put the lid on it. Go watch TV.

After a few weeks [3], you’ve got orange extract (deja vu, anybody?). Make a simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water, heating on the stove until all the sugar is dissolved. Allow the syrup to cool. Mix equal parts of orange extract and syrup together. Mix well to get home-made Triple Sec. Drink it all. Wake up 1000 miles away in the bathroom of a Greyhound bus without any socks on [5].

Results

Here’s a picture showing my bottle of Triple Sec, a jar of extract, and the drained jar of pathetic-looking orange peels.

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The triple sec is very tasty, especially once it’s been allowed to refrigerate and cool down to a drinkable temperature.  Once cooled, it’s very tasty indeed. The orange extract has a great orange aroma and nice muted orange flavor. Dana and I are both looking forward to some Margaritas and some orange-flavored baked goods.

Notes

  1. I used mostly zest from the Moro Blood Oranges, which have a slightly different taste from what something like a Navel or a Valencia orange might have.
  2. The wonderful state of PA keeps our options pretty limited. We used regular 80-proof vodka. One day I’ll go down to a liquor store in DE to buy the good stuff, and then I’ll be a felon. Or a misdemeanon (depending on the quantity that I transport over state lines).
  3. Several people I’ve seen online recommend waiting at least 6 weeks, but I did not wait that long. Surprise surprise.
  4. Simple Syrup is, depending on which recipe you follow, equal parts water and sugar, boiled until all the sugar is dissolved. I’ve also seen variations substituting orange juice for the water, and adding more sugar than liquid (4:3, etc) or both. All my juice ended up in the jam recipes, so I just used water.
  5. But your shoes are still on, for some reason. What the heck have you been doing for the last three days, and where did your socks go?


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Plans for 2013

December 21st came and went, and now that we’re sure the world isn’t going to end it’s time to start with planning for 2013. Since this is the last day before 2013, it seems like as good a time as any to plan ahead for it. Here’s a quick rundown of some projects I want to accomplish next year:

  1. More Preserves. We’ve been giving away jams and preserves as gifts. They make great gifts for friends and family who really deserve more than just a card, especially around the holidays. When the jars start flying off the shelves, you realize just how little you actually have to keep for yourself. Next year, I’ll be doing a much larger quantity of jams and preserves.
    1. Cherry Jam: We loved this stuff but got relatively small amounts of it. We want more cherries, and more cherry jam. I’d like to experiment with more new recipes and combinations too.
    2. Peach Jam: We had a couple batches of peaches that didn’t turn out (got moldy before we could use them, etc). Next year I want to be more efficient and make more peach jam, especially the vanilla peach jam which has become a household favorite. We’ll probably stay away from white peaches for a while, since our luck with them was so bad last summer.
    3. Apple Butter: This made up the bulk of our holiday gifts and it was very well-received. Next year I’m going to experiment more with different varieties of apples, make much larger quantities, and tweak my recipe.
    4. Apple Sauce: It’s dirt simple to make, and is a great gift especially for people with young children. Who doesn’t love a dollop of apple sauce?
    5. Pie Fillings:  Next year I’d like to make more, and more varieties.
    6. Other Fruits: I didn’t do anything in 2012 with pears, plums, citrus, or anything else that makes for fun preserves. Next year I’d like to try to do some of that and try many more new recipes. I want to do more stuff with blueberries,  though I don’t have anything specific in mind.
    7. Tomatoes: I plan to greatly expand my garden tomato-growing efforts next year, and I’d like to be able to put together a few jars of sauce. If I can find a good local farm stand selling good varieties, all the better.
    8. Pickles:  I didn’t have good luck with them last summer, but if I can harden my nerves I’d like to give it another shot.
  2. Flavored Liquors:  Some things I’d like to be making myself, corking up, and keeping on hand:
    1. More Limoncello: It was awesome, and I think I can do even better next year.
    2. Spiced Rum: I’ve seen a few cool-looking recipes online, and I’d like to give it a shot. Plus, there are some people for whom a bottle of spiced rum would make a better gift than a jar of jam.
    3. Triple-Sec: It’s made a lot like Limoncello, just substituting the lemon peels for orange ones and making a few other tweaks.
    4. Amaretto: If we can find a good, cheap source of unmonkeyed almonds I’d love to try my hand at making amaretto and almond extract for baking.
    5. Vanilla Extract: It’s not a liquor per se, but it’s made with booze and it costs so much less to do it yourself than to buy the little bottles at the store. Plus, I’ve found that I can buy a 1lb bag of the beans on Amazon fresh from the supplier for a decent price.
    6. Vinegars: We don’t drink a lot of wine (especially not red wine) but we always end up with a few spare bottles after the holidays. I need to find a good vinegar starter and some good clean glass jugs for brewing. Also, I’ve seen some interesting recipes for making apple cider vinegar from apple scraps.
  3. The Garden: More tomatoes in the garden next year. We’ve got garlic in the ground already, and would like to do some onions and maybe shallots with them. I want bell peppers, a better selection of hot peppers, and maybe some greenish stuff (peas, green beans, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, etc) to fill in the gaps. I’d like a big barrel with potatoes, and maybe a few small cucumber bushes in pots on our patio. I’ve got a few other plans in mind that I’ll talk about later.
  4. Pick Your Own: The munchkin loves to go picking, and we put the mountains of fruit to good use. Next year I’d like to get more peaches and apples and I’d also like to try other fruits as well. Certain ones like cherries, plums, blueberries, grapes and pears are harder to find for picking, but there are a few places nearby that might offer them if the season is good and we’re very attentive to the schedule.

Some of my plans are going to have to get rolling soon (Tomato seeds have to start around March!). I’ll post updates about all these things as they progress.


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Flavored Liquor Scorecard

Dana and I don’t really drink too much. Because of that, we’ve got stuff in our liquor cabinet that’s been there for a long time and we haven’t planned to use in the foreseeable future. Repeating the mantra “waste not, want not” over and over in my head, we have started to turn some of this excess booze into some homemade flavored liquors. This year we’ve done small batches of several things, but next year we may take some of the lessons we’ve learned and try to ramp up to larger batches for gift-giving and drunk-getting.

How do you infuse liquor? The “recipe” is really simple: Take some booze. Cram flavorful stuff in there. Let it sit for a while. Strain the liquour out. The hard part is finding combinations that work, and deciding how long to let the mixtures sit before straining.

Here’s a scorecard of the things we’ve tried:

Cherry Rum

Stuff a pint jar with pitted sweet cherries. Top off with Rum. Let it sit in the pantry for about two weeks. I mentioned in a post a while back that this rum made a great mohito, but the reality is that I wish we had used vodka instead. We just don’t use rum enough (which, admittedly, is why we had such a big jug of it begging to be used). The color was a great deep red and the flavor was very cherry-full. I’m told that tart cherries work very well too, so if we can get our hands on some of those we may give it a shot.

Final Grade: B

Watermelon Vodka

We had a watermelon sitting around that we weren’t eating and it was quickly becoming over-ripe. So I chopped it up, stuffed some chunks into a pint jar and covered with vodka. We didn’t start with the best watermelon so the final product is probably not as good as it could be. The pink color of the vodka is great and the flavor does go very well with many mixers, but there is a certain off-ripe bitterness to it that you can definitely taste if you drink it straight. A little bit of simple syrup goes a long way to fixing this problem. I am encouraged to try this again next year with a better melon.

Final Grade: C

Grape Vodka

Like many of these other applications, we had some green seedless grapes laying around that weren’t being eaten as quickly as they needed. I cut several handfuls of them in half, stuffed them into a pint jar and topped with Absolut. The final product had a very feint greenish hue and had a good grape flavor. It was a little bit bitter, but mixed extremely well. We liked it a lot with some simple syrup and club soda.

Final Grade: B+

Apple Bourbon

When pick-your-own season started up, we were covered in apples. I took two 8-oz jars, put a single diced jonathan apple in each, and topped with bourbon. After sitting for a few weeks, shaking occasionally, I put it into a little flip-top bottle. The resulting liquor is much smoother than it was going in, but the apple flavor is very muted and subtle. I was hoping for something a little bit more obvious. Oh well. Next year I plan to make a much larger batch of this stuff, with different varieties of apples and a few other changes.

Final Grade: B

Homemade Limoncello and Apple Bourbon

Limoncello

The most complicated recipe on this list, Limoncello is made by steeping the lemon peels in alcohol instead of the flesh of the fruit. Then you finish it off with some simple syrup to give the classic sweet flavor. Most recipes call for a grain alcohol or an over-proof vodka, but we had regular 80 proof Absolut on hand so that’s what we used. Lemons are something we’ve had in surplus lately; many of our canning recipes call for lemon juice and I try to use fresh lemons instead of bottled lemon juice when possible (I usually go extra on the quantity, to make sure the pH is safe). Instead of juicing them and tossing them, I’ve been squeezing them AND peeling them before the final trip to the big compost pile in the sky (in my back yard). I’m told that a similar process is used to make home-made Triple Sec, and using something besides vodka could give us something closer to a home-made Grand Marnier. Maybe we’ll try something like that next. The final product has a great lemony flavor and a taste comparable to a store-bought variety or better.

Final Grade: A


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Cherries on the Cheap

With all the pick-your-own madness infecting my home this summer, There’s one thing I haven’t mentioned yet: Cherries. I love cherries, but let’s face facts: They’re not always easy to find in good qualities, they can cost an arm and a leg, and considering how fragile they are the pick-your-own thing is almost unheard of. At least, that’s the way it is in my area. Imagine my amazement then when we found bags of sweet dark cherries at the grocery store for 1.99$ per pound! Normally we see prices around the 4.50$ range. For that price, FUHGEDDABOUDIT! 1.99$ is so good in comparison that we bought 6 pounds. Next year, if we can get a similar deal, we’ll buy even more.

We also picked up a cherry pitter at Williams Sonoma, the only kitchen gadget store in the mall near the play area. It’s kind of sad the criteria we use to pick stores when we’re out shopping as a family. If the munchkin isn’t happy, none of us are happy.

First things first, we stuffed a pint jar with pitted cherries, topped it off with light rum and let it steep for about two weeks.  Looking back I’m wishing we used vodka instead; but the resulting liquor has a great cherry flavor and works wonderfully in rum cocktails. Three words for you: Crimson cherry mohitos. Next year we may attempt a similar concoction with vodka.

We made a lot of cherry jam too. We made a normal batch of cherry jam following the directions on the Sure Jell low-sugar pectin packet. Then I made a batch without pectin which I cooked down into more of a “compote” than a “jam”. Finally I tried the pectin-free thing once more, but this time I got nervous and didn’t cook it enough. This last batch tastes amazing but is a little bit more syrupy than most jams. I still like it on toast and biscuits, you just have to be careful where you drip.

Shown in this picture, from left to right: A quart of cherry pie filling,
a half-pint of no-pectin cherry jam, and two half-pints of peach jam and vanilla peach jam.

Since these cherry jams were among the first things I canned we ended up giving away many of them, as well as many of the first jars of peach jam, as gifts. I enjoy them so much myself, and I know other people have loved receiving them as well, so next year I plan to make much more of the stuff.

The whole experience has convinced me to get a cherry tree of my own, and next spring I plan to do exactly that. There are lots of hard decisions to make about what variety of tree to get, but I’ll write about all those things when it’s closer to spring.