Dazed and Infused

Laura Ingalls Wildest. That’s what I wanted to title this post. Taking the wholesomeness of the high-summer fruit harvest and preserving it in a fifth of moonshine just seems like something the Original Pioneer Girl would have done just before she FINALLY lost her shit, threw Ma and Pa down the well, and dragged Almanzo up into the hayloft for a well-deserved romp.

But I didn’t come up with Laura Ingalls Wildest – full credit to a commenter on Wonkette for that – so you, dear reader, get a second-rate pun for a title.

You don’t even get a proper recipe, really. What could be simpler than taking pristine, ripe, local fruit – no bruises, only perfect specimens, please – and immersing it in vodka, straining the vodka out anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks later? Nothing, that’s what.

Sweet cherries on the left, sour cherries on the right. Most of them pitted, but a few left whole with pits and stems. Off camera: a mix of sweet and sour cherries.

Bonus experimental infusion: following a tip from a recent Splendid Table podcast, I threw a few dozen fleshy cherry pits in with some supermarket-grade red wine vinegar. Lynn Rossetto Kasper claims this will give the vinegar a woodsy, aged taste. I’ll be sure to report back…

Strawberries - hulled, halved, and ready to teleport the taste of summer to a mid-winter cocktail.

Sorry for the crappy iPhone photos – M.C. Warm Spice absconded with the good camera.

At stage right, vodka infused with hot chilis, organic unwaxed lemon zest, pink peppercorns, and dill heads from our backyard herb garden. Chilled down to an icy syrup, this will be a welcome accompaniment to gravlax later in the year. A couple of years ago, we made one with fresh dill, caraway seed, black peppercorns and fresh horseradish - really, really nice.

Many Internet Experts will tell you that you can use bottom-shelf vodka for your infusions. I don’t recommend using anything less reputable than you’d routinely drink in, say, a vodka and tonic. Certainly don’t splurge on Grey Goose for your infusions, but don’t expect the added ingredients to polish off the edges of an el cheapo brand.

Supercharged Steak and Shrooms

It’s not that we haven’t been cooking lately – far from it. Sometimes, the finished plate is too underwhelming to blog. More often, it just seems that we’re so eager to eat that we photograph everything but the finished dish.

In that spirit, before we even cook dinner tonight, here’s a way to prep steak that takes it far, far beyond the ordinary. This is adapted from Mario Batali’s Italian Grill.

Take an ounce (by weight) of dried wild mushrooms. Porcini are recommended, but shiitake or a mix of the two would be just fine. Grind them to a fine powder in the cheapo coffee grinder you keep to grind things other than coffee. You’ll get about 1/4 cup of powder.

Mix that up with a few cloves of garlic-minced-and-mashed-with-salt, 1 Tbsp sugar (which will add crusty goodness to your steak), 1 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1.5 Tbsp kosher salt, or the same amount of today’s mystery ingredient (which we’ll discuss below).

Add enough olive oil – maybe 1/3 cup? – to make a slurry that’s slightly more liquidy-spoonable than it is solidly-spreadable, and anoint your steaks with a good layer of this umami-splosive. The recipe above is enough for 2 or 3 rib-eyes, or 4 strip steaks.

Marinate your steaks in the fridge for anywhere from 2-12 hours, remove it 1 hour before cooking, and grill away.

Now, today’s mystery ingredient:

Salamoia Bolognese: a mix of chopped fresh herbs preserved in salt (or, if you prefer, salt infused with fresh herbs). This particular blend contains sage, rosemary, garlic, and pepper. You can also find it with lemon zest. It’s an amazing way to add fresh herb flavour to chicken, beef, and pork without having to buy little bunches of herbs that – minus the 8% that you use – turn black in your fridge. The stuff lasts indefinitely. You can find it at Italian grocers. You’re welcome.