Friday, October 27, 2006

More On Herbal Vinegars

MAKING HERBAL VINEGARS
There is nothing better than seeing the snow falling outside while looking around your kitchen and seeing the reminders of the summer and fall. It brings a wonderful feeling of warmth, something we need here in upstate New York by mid-January.

Vinegars are a great way to preserve your herbal harvest. It's a fun, easy and inexpensive! They can be used in salads, as marinades, and for seasoning all types of food. They're healthy, and a great alternative to salt. They make the perfect gift to give from your kitchen.

WHAT TYPE OF VINEGAR
Using store-bought vinegars with fresh herbs from your garden, can give you a wide variety of flavors. There are many brands of the vinegars to choose from that differ in taste and quality. Sample each vinegar to decide which suits your palate best.

Apple Cider Vinegar–A fruity vinegar, this works well with stronger herbs. It makes fine vinegar for salad dressings. The better apple cider vinegars are made from whole apples. Unfiltered, organic apple cider vinegar is available in most health food stores. Beware of 'cider' vinegars that contain any added coloring, as they are of lower quality. They are actually caramel colored distilled vinegar with a small amount of concentrated cider stock added.

Champagne Vinegar–This vinegar is made from still wine from the grapes used to make champagne, usually Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Champagne vinegar is soft, smooth and delicate. Champagne vinegar works well when combining it with the more subtly flavored fines herbes. It is excellent for making vinegar from the flowers of lavender and sweet violets. Champagne vinegar also makes a wonderful vinaigrette to drizzle over seared seafood, particularly salmon.

Distilled Vinegar–While it's the most readily available vinegar, distilled vinegar is too harsh to use in herbal vinegars, as it will mask the flavor of the herbs. Spend a little more and use one of the other vinegars listed.

Red Wine Vinegar–Made from red wine, this works equally as well as white wine vinegar and has an appetizing red color. The rich depth of red wine vinegar works better with stronger herbs. It is excellent for vinegars to be used for marinating red meat, and for vinaigrettes where the color is very appetizing.

Rice Wine Vinegar–Made from cooked rice, this vinegar has a sweet flavor, and makes a very nice herbal vinegar salad dressing. Its mild, sweet taste is excellent with milder herbs and flowers. Because it often contains sugar and salt, it is usually sold as 'seasoned' rice wine vinegar, which works fine for herbal vinegars.

Sherry Vinegar–Imported from Jerez in southeastern Spain, sherry vinegar is rich, smooth and mellow, and blends well with stronger herbs like rosemary. It has a slightly nutty flavor with a sweet aftertaste. It's a bit more expensive because it is aged in oak, much like balsamic vinegar. Sherry vinegar blends well with other oils for marinades, salad dressings and vinaigrettes.

White Wine Vinegar–Made from white wine, this vinegar will work fine for most of the herbal vinegars you make. It's balance and acidity blend well with the herbs, allowing the full herbal bouquet to be tasted. As a general rule, use white wine vinegar when the final color is important, like when using purple basil, which will yield a lovely rose-colored vinegar. The mellow flavor of white wine vinegar blends well with light meats and fish.

MAKING THE VINEGAR

The Cool-Steep Method
If you plan far enough ahead, the cool-steep method produces some of the best herbal vinegars. If you want to make enough for gifts, you can make big batches in large glass jars (sun tea jars work well) or plastic food grade gallon jugs. For smaller batches, mayonnaise jars work fine, but place some plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar, as the vinegar will interact with the metal lid.
Gather the fresh herbs you're going to use, and wash and dry them well. As a general rule, use 1 cup of herbs for 2 cups of vinegar. Bruise and crumple the herbs up a bit, place them in your sterilized glass jar. Then fill the jar with the room-temperature vinegar, cover, and place it in a cool, dark area for a few weeks to let the herbs' flavors steep into the vinegar. Shake the jar every few days. After about three weeks, taste the vinegar every few days by putting a few drops on some plain bread, until the flavor is just right.

The Warm-Steep Method
Warming the vinegar will speed the steeping process, but just don't be in too much of a hurry. Be careful not to boil the vinegar, or some of its acidity will be destroyed, thereby changing its flavor. Also, boiling vinegar will adversely affect the fresh herbs over which it is poured.
Follow all of the above steps in the cool-steep method, except the vinegar you add to the herb-filled steeping jar must be heated to just below a simmer. Pour the heated vinegar into the jar of herbs. This will quickly impart the herbs' flavor into the vinegar. Then let the vinegar and herbs cool to room temperature before tightly covering the jar, and place it in a cool, dark area. Begin tasting the vinegar daily in about 3 days. If the flavor gets too strong, you can dilute it with some of the plain base vinegar.

Bottling Your Vinegars
Whether you plan to make your vinegars for your own use, or give them away as gifts, start keeping clear bottles from foods you use in your home. Clear wine bottles, syrup bottles, and any other attractive food grade bottleswill do. Soak off the labels in warm, soapy water. Do not use metal caps, as they will interact with the vinegar. Bottles that come with attached porcelain caps work well too. Just make sure to properly sterilize all bottles by placing them in a large pot of water and bringing the water up to boiling for a few minutes. Then let them cool and place them upside down on paper towels to fully drain, and then right side up to air dry. Your bottles must be completely dry before you fill them with your vinegar, as water will cloud your herbal vinegar.

Straining the Vinegar
When the vinegar is done steeping, you will need to strain it to remove any tiny particles that will cloud your vinegar. Place an unbleached, flat-bottomed (basket) coffee filter in a metal strainer. Then pour your vinegar through the coffee filter into a large measuring cup. Use unbleached coffee filters because white coffee filters have invariably been bleached with chlorine bleach. The bleaching process produces toxic Dioxins, which are left in the paper. Unbleached coffee filters are available at most grocery stores, and be sure to get the flat-bottomed ones sold a 'basket filters' that will fit in the strainer, not 'cone' filters.

Filling the Bottles
Now, you want to make a beautiful presentation of your bottle. Pick a fresh sprig of each of the herbs you've used to steep your vinegar, wash and dry them well, and add them to each of your sterilized, dry glass bottles. Using a funnel, pour the vinegar into the bottles. Then tightly cap the bottles with corks.

Sealing Your Bottles
If you are using corks to seal your bottles, and you will be shipping your herbal vinegars for holiday gifts, (or you just want to add a decorative touch to your own bottles), make certain the corks in the bottles are well sealed. This is easily done with beeswax. Tap the corks into the bottles, and make certain the corks have tightly sealed the bottles by holding them upside down for a few seconds and checking that no vinegar is seeping out. In a small pan, heat the beeswax until it liquefies. (Lining the pan with a double layer of aluminum foil make for easy cleanup.) Then dip the tops of the bottles into the melted beeswax. Dip the bottles about an inch past the tip of the bottle to completely cover the cork and some of the bottle. Let the wax cool and harden for a few seconds, and then repeat several times until you have a nice thick layer of wax completely covering the cork and mouth of the bottle. Beeswax is available from honey vendors at Farmers' Markets. If you can't find it, just melt down a solid, unscented pure beeswax candle.

Recipes for Making Herbal Vinegars
Once you have a nice collection of herbal vinegars in your pantry, you can begin to incorporate them into your everyday cooking. The acidity in herbal vinegars make them excellent for deglazing a pan after sautéing meat. After sautéing zucchini or other vegetables in a pan, a little dash of herbal vinegar is all the seasoning you need. And vinegar is excellent for tenderizing meat and as marinades.

Some blends that work well:
Cinnamon Basil and Whole Cloves
Lemon basil by itself
Cinnamon sticks with Whole Cloves Nutmeg and Allspice
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme –no kidding
Dill flowers with Peppercorns
Basil Garlic and Peppercorn
Hot Peppers alone or with Pearl Onions

RECIPES
Floral Vinegar
1/4 Cup torn Nasturtiums or Calendula flower petals
2 Tbl. Lavender flowers
2 Tbl. Borage flowers
1 Cup white wine Vinegar
Few sprigs Lavender or Nasturtiums
In a small jar, place nasturtiums, lavender and borage flowers; pour vinegar over flowers and seal jar. Let stand in a cool dark place for at least 3 to 4 weeks. Check after a few weeks to make sure the flowers are still covered by the vinegar, adding more if necessary and resealing the bottle. Strain the vinegar and pour into 1/2 pint bottle. Insert flower sprigs into the bottle and seal. Great for fruit-salad dressings or sweet-and-sour sauces, this pastel colored vinegar also imparts a light, fragrant flavor when splashed over green salads or grilled vegetables. Just be sure to use pesticide-free flowers.

Herb Vinegar
4 cups red wine vinegar
8 sprigs fresh parsley
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon sage leaves
Thoroughly wash herbs and dip in solution of 1 teaspoon household bleach in 6 cups water. Rinse thoroughly under cool running water and pat dry. Place herbs in sterilized quart jar. Heat vinegar to just below boiling point (190 F); pour over herbs. Cap tightly and allow to stand in cool, dark place for three to four weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain out herbs. Pour vinegar into clean sterilized bottles with tight fitting covers. Add a fresh sprig of cleaned and sanitized parsley, if desired. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 1 quart.

Raspberry Vinegar
2 cups raspberries
2 cups red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar or honey
Combine ingredients in glass or enamel pot. Warm for 10 minutes; remove from heat, cool, cover. Let stand 3 to 4 weeks; strain, pressing to extract all of the juices. Rebottle.

Lemon Herb Vinegar
4 cups of white wine vinegar
2 cups of lemon thyme sprigs
1 cup lemon balm leaves
1 cup lemon verbena sprigs
One continuance peel from a fresh lemon
Sterilize a six cup bottle. Rinse and thoroughly dry the fresh herbs and lemon peel. Put the herbs and peel into the bottle and pour the warmed vinegar over the material. Allow the mixture to cool. Seal with a non metallic cap. In 2 weeks strain and divide into smaller bottles.

Borage Vinegar
1 1/2 cups fresh borage flowers (add a little of the stem and leaves for more intense flavor)
Wash and blot dry.
4 cups white wine vinegar
Place in large jar. Heat vinegar to just before boil. Pour into jar. Stir. Place in dark place for 3 to 4 weeks, stirring from time to time.

Herbal combinations to flavor different types of vinegars:
Apple Cider Vinegar
~Dill, bay leaves, and garlic
~Horseradish, shallot, and hot red pepper
~Dill, mustard seeds, lemon balm, and garlic
~Tarragon, chives, lemon balm, shallots, and garlic
~Garlic, basil, whole cracked nutmeg, and whole cloves

Champagne Vinegar
~Lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemongrass, and lemon zest

Red Wine Vinegar
~Thyme, rosemary, hyssop, fennel, oregano, and garlic
~Lemon thyme, rosemary, and black peppercorns
~Rosemary, savory, sage, basil, bay and garlic
~Garlic, jalapeno peppers, and black peppercorns
~Basil, oregano, garlic, and black peppercorns
~Thyme, rosemary, oregano and basil
~Sage, parsley, and shallots
~Burnet, borage, and dill
~Cilantro, hot red pepper, and garlic
~Lemongrass, lemon verbena, lemon zest, and green peppercorns
~Marjoram, burnet, and lemon balm

Sherry Vinegar
~Basil, rosemary, tarragon, dill, sorrel, mint, chives, and garlic
~Parsley, thyme, rosemary, and bay
~Rosemary, oregano, sage, basil, parsley, garlic, and black peppercorns
~Shallot, thyme, and bay
~Sage, whole allspice berries, cloves and cinnamon stick

White Wine Vinegar
~Basil, parsley, fennel, and garlic
~Dill, basil, tarragon, and lemon balm
~Mint, lemon balm, and lemon basil
~Rosemary, thyme, marjoram, savory, lavender, bay, garlic and hot red pepper

Vinaigrettes
A vinaigrette is just a simple quick and easy way to dress a salad without sacrificing the taste. Usually a vinaigrette calls for oil in a 3 to 1 ratio to the vinegar. That's what's so much fun about using vinaigrettes. You can experiment and use all of those vinegars and oils you've made from the herbs in your garden.

Raspberry Vinaigrette
¼ cup Raspberry Vinegar
½ cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste

Herb Vinaigrette
¼ cup Herb Vinegar
¾ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
¼ teaspoon each salt & pepper
1 Tablespoon herbs (chervil, chives, parsley or tarragon)

If you or your group are interested in a hands on demonstration which includes a Tinker Herb Garden walk and a make and take program, call Arleen Oliver at the Tinker Homestead to schedule at 585-359-7042.

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