Once a year I used to get the urge to do something crafty. I usually made a big batch of something for public consumption. One year I made homemade pasta in three flavors. Another year I made chocolate dipped biscotti. This year if you too are feeling crafty, skip the Christmas cookies and make something flavored or infused.
Chronicle Books has come out with two really cool books for the kitchen craft-inclined, Infused 100+ recipes for Infused Liqueurs and Cocktails and Michael Chiarello's Flavored Oils and Vinegars Here you'll find mostly no-cook concoctions that will spice up drinks or dinners. Each book begins with the infused or flavored recipes, then follows up with how to use your new creation in cocktails and meals.
Vanilla Julep, anyone? Infused has the recipe. If you've hung out in any sophisticated bars lately you may have noticed the use of bitters and infused liqueurs. But you don't have to buy infused liqueurs, like your crafty hipster bartender, you can make them. With clear and simple instructions from Susan Elia MacNeal you'll find versions from Apple Liqueur to Watermelon Liqueur and everything in between. I like the idea of Rose Liqueur and also Pepper Liqueur. The spice liqueurs seem perfect for this time of year. This book would make a great gift for an aspiring mixologist or serve as the inspiration for your next batch of homemade gifts. Note that most of the liqueurs take 2 weeks to one month to infuse and another month to age.
Michael Chiarello's Flavored Oils and Vinegars will add a new element to your cooking. It's actually a reprint of two books combined. The oils mostly need to be used within a week for best flavor so take a look at the recipes and think about how you might you use them before making a batch. The vinegars also should be used within a week or so, although some of them can be stored in sterilized bottles for much longer. There are so many suggestions for what to do with them that you probably won't have any difficulty using them up quickly. Perhaps the most versatile are the fruit vinegars can be used in everything from spritzers to barbecue sauce to salsas to dessert sauces. There are lots of mouth-waterng Italian influenced recipes to try in this book. Many of the recipes use the overflow from the garden or farmers market. But those without access to great produce have no fear, the recipe for Mushroom and Artichoke Pappardelle is enticement enough for making porcini infused oil.