Cookbooks: Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits

Homemade Liqueurs

Despite the fact that I don’t drink a whole lot, I love making little batches of infused booze. They make really great gifts and are always hugely popular at food swaps. My repertoire is fairly narrow, most years featuring just cherry bounce, rhubarb liqueur, and honey sweetened limoncello.

tools for infusing

This season, it’s going to be different. Thanks to Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits by Andrew Schloss, I plan on significantly upping my game. The book includes both a vast amount of interesting flavored concoctions as well a goodly number of recipes to help you use them up.

Elderflower Blush

The book breaks down into three main sections. The first is all the information you need to get started. Next comes the recipes, which are divided into fruits, vegetables, herbs & spices, nuts & seeds, florals, beverages & chocolate, creamy sippers, caramel & butterscotch, and finally infused syrups. Truly, there’s something here for every possible boozy situation.

Homemade Liqueurs back

The thing that I find most useful in this book is that if a recipe is designed to mimic the flavor of a commercial liqueur, that detail is indicated prominently under the recipe name. That way, if you long to make your own Frangelico, just turn to page 138 and start a batch of Toasted Hazelnut. It’s a good way to start playing around if you make liqueurs that can replace what you typically keep in your liquor cabinet.

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Honey Sweetened Meyer Lemon Jam

four jars meyer lemon jam

Meyer lemons are a large part of what make the winter months bearable for me. Smooth-skinned, mildly tart, and with a fresh, slightly floral fragrance, they bring a welcome brightness to February (particularly this month. Every time the weather report predicts more snow, I feel ready to weep).

one and a half pounds

Over the years, I think I’ve done nearly everything that one can do with a Meyer lemon. I’ve preserved them in salt, turned them into curd, chopped and sliced into marmalade, dehydrated them, made jelly with their juice, and packed the zest into both salt and sugar.

simmered lemons

I think this whole fruit jam might be my final meyer lemon frontier. I’d been thinking along these lines for a while and then Shae over at Hitchhiking to Heaven posted a similar whole fruit jam using grapefruit and it cemented the deal for me.

lemons in a blender

Because I find that honey sweetened preserves are best done in small batches, I started with just one and a half pounds of lemons. I put them in a saucepan where they’d fit in a single layer and added some water (you need two cups of water to make the jam, so I started with a bit more than that to account for evaporation).

pouring meyer lemon sludge

I simmered the lemons for about 25 minutes, until the were tender but not falling apart and then I left them in the pot for a day because life got busy. Had my fridge not been packed to the gills, I would have poured them into a container and popped them in there, but there just wasn’t room.

meyer lemon jam

When I was ready to cook, I put the lemons in the blender with two cups of the cooking water and pulsed until they were broken into relatively small pieces but not uniformly pureed (I wanted some texture). The puree went into a low, wide pan with two cups of honey (approximately one half of the meyer lemon mixture by weight). Cooked over high heat, it was setting up nicely in just 15 minutes.

I’m really pleased with the way this jam turned out. It shows off all the charms of the meyer lemon, is pleasingly bracing, and manages to avoid being over-sweet. I also love the fact that it skips all the work of a traditional batch of marmalade. I still have a few meyer lemons left and am planning to make a second batch.

Updated to add: I’ve gotten some questions about the seeds. Meyer lemons are a hybrid fruit, so they typically don’t have many seeds. I used a small slotted spoon to skim them out of the jam during cooking. If your lemons are seedier than mine, cut them in half and remove the seeds before pureeing.

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Canning 101: How to Use a Thermometer to Achieve Set

three thermometers

We are currently smack dab in the middle of marmalade season. Though citrus is available all year round, it is both at its peak and most affordable during January, February, and March. Because of this, I’ve been getting a number of questions about marmalade making, in particular, the art of using a thermometer to determine when a batch of marmalade has reached its set point.

The reason this comes up more during marmalade season than other times of the year is that citrus is naturally high in pectin and so many marmalades can be made without the addition of any commercial pectin. The trick then becomes cooking the fruit and sugar combination to around 220 or 221 degrees F, which is known as sugar’s gel point.

When the sugar reaches that gel point, it undergoes a physical transformation and thickens. That increased thickness gives it the ability to bond with the natural pectin in the citrus and create a thick, spreadable marmalade.

thermometer probes

The issue that people are having is that they are finding a mismatch between the temperature that their thermometer is displaying and the consistency of the cooking marmalade. Typically, the marmalade appears far more cooked than the temperature on the thermometer read-out would indicate. The result is a burnt, overset preserve that is deeply frustrating, given how much work is involved in prepping a batch of marm.

There are two reasons that this can occur. One is that the thermometer is giving a faulty reading. The way you can test to determine whether your thermometer is reading accurately is to bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Once it starts rolling, insert the thermometer into the water. If you’re at sea level, it should read 212 degrees F. If you’re at higher elevations, that rolling boil will be achieved at lower temperatures. If the reading is wildly different from that which your elevation would indicate, get yourself a new thermometer.

thermometer probes with notes

The other reason that your thermometer might not be reading accurately is that is may not be be sufficiently covered with the cooking preserve. Every thermometer has a mark indicating how much the probe must be submerged in order to give a true reading. As you can see in the picture above, the three thermometers in my kitchen all need to be submerged to different depths in order to perform accurately.

If you’re making a small batch of marmalade, you sometimes run into a situation where there’s just not enough volume in the pot to fully submerge a traditional candy or deep frying thermometer (I often run into that problem with the left and center thermometers). In my case, I deal with that situation by using the Thermapen on the right or by using other methods to check my set.

Try the plate/saucer test or if it’s a truly small batch, use your eyes and ears. As it reaches the set point, marmalade will simmer more vigorously. As you stir, watch to see if it is leaving an open space for a moment after you pull your spoon through. That’s a sign of thickening as well.

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Giveaway: Food-Themed Note Cards from League Street Press

you are unbeetable

My friend Joy Manning is a thank you note evangelist. In an age where people send their regards electronically (if they send them at all), Joy pulls out a pretty note card, writes a brief but thoughtful message, and then hands it off to the US Postal Service. I have been on the receiving end of Joy’s note writing habit more than once and I’m always delighted to receive a piece of physical mail beyond bills and coupons for Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

League Street Press cards

Last spring, Joy gave a talk at Eat, Write, Retreat about how her note writing habit is integral to her career networking strategy (she’s a freelance food writer, recipe developer, and editor) and how it has often brought more assignments her way. I was there for her talk and I was inspired enough to dig out my dusty stack of thank you notes and write appreciations to people who have helped me over the years.

olive my love

In a move that has delighted many (or, at the very least, me), Joy has launched a line of food-themed note cards in partnership with her friend Sam Bednarek under the name League Street Press. Each card has a fruit or vegetable on the front, along with a punny line. I particularly like the “olive my love” design that you see above. Sam is a graphic designer and art director and she designed the cards and created the art. Joy came up with the lines and developed the recipes that are printed on the back.

no-churn peach ice cream

And let me tell you, these recipes aren’t throwaways. Joy tested and retested these dishes in order to come up delicious things that would be both easy and appealing. I had a chance to taste the No-Churn Peach Ice Cream when it was in development and so I speak from first-hand experience when I say that it’s truly fabulous and is such a good option for those of us who can’t find space in our freezers to chill an ice cream bowl (I am sure that I’m not the only one with this issue).

Best of all, these note cards are perfectly sized to slip right into a recipe box, so your recipient will be able to add it to their recipe collection with tearing or folding your thoughtful note.

League Street Press back

The cards can be bought as singles ($4 a piece) or in boxes of eight ($20 for a box). They are printed on sturdy card stock and both the cards and envelopes are made from 100% recycled paper.

Thanks to Joy and Sam, I have one box of eight note cards to give away to a lucky Food in Jars reader. Here’s how to enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share a thank you note story. Did your parents make you write them when you were growing up? Or is it a habit you never quite picked up?
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm on Saturday, February 22, 2014. Winners will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog on Sunday, February 23, 2014.
  3. Giveaway open to US and Canadian residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

Disclosure: League Street Press gave me one set of these notecards for photography purposes and are providing a second set for the giveaway. No money has changed hands. I just think they’re cool and so I wanted to share them with you. 

Links: More Kumquats, Pickled Cabbage, and a Winner

Leftovers, citrus, and tea. A perfect at-home Sunday brunch.

Scott had a birthday late last week and so we’ve had an long weekend of celebration and much indulgent eating. It’s been fun, but I’m looking forward to getting back to a life that involves a few more vegetables and a bit less birthday cake and french fries. Other than that, it’s been all book tour planning, all the time. If you check out the Classes and Events page, you’ll see that I’ve been slowly adding to it for the spring. Some dates don’t have a ton of info yet, but I’m updating it daily, so keep checking back! Now, links!

white beans

We have a winner in the Weck jar and Dutch oven giveaway sponsored by Mighty Nest that was part of the pressure canned beans post. It’s Heather Shaut from Ohio! Congratulations Heather!

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Photos From the Food in Jars Flickr Pool

Each weekend, I dig through the Food in Jars Flickr pool and feature some of your photographs here in this space. If you’d like to see your hard work on the blog, please add your images to the group! And just so you know, Instagram and camera phone images are more than welcome (and it’s easy to set up your Instagram photos to feed to a Flickr account). Here are this week’s selections.

IMG_5668

These jars of gorgeous spiced and pickled daikon radish come to us from Ilene of the Urban Canning Company.

Picante pickled carrots

Some pack a punch picante pickled carrots  from  Erin of Putting Up With Erin.

marm jars

Could a preserve be any prettier? Mixed citrus marmalade from Rebecca at Cakewalk.

Last jam of the night: spiced blueberry.

A little spiced blueberry blast from the past! Take by Melissa from The Boastful Baker during  a late night canning session.

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