Over the course of the past few years I’ve gone from a complete klutz in the kitchen to a meal maven. Looking back, it must have been a combination of a few things clicking in my head. First, there’s this little thing I like to call ’ballin’ on a budget‘: as much as I love to live large, I almost desperately needed a way to keep my spending in check. Sushi, Dim Sum, Whole
Paycheck Foods; you name it, I ate it on the regular so I had to put a stop to my delivery and dining out habits. Secondly, I was getting pretty sick of people ruining foods that I love. Third, I’m a firm believer that everyone should be adept at crafting their favorite comfort foods so I wanted to make a point of learning how to cook flavored, moist chicken and sear the perfect salmon. And last, but definitely not least: food, more specifically the gastrointestinal system, is the key to everyone’s heart. No, seriously! With the amount of serotonin receptors in your GI tract and stomach, it’s no wonder that food and mood go completely hand in hand.
I started out slow and basic when I moved into my first apartment in 2008. Right after I graduated from UCSB, my step-mother gifted me with a book ironically titled ‘How to Boil Water‘ that gracefully takes you through simple cooking preparation and elementary dishes to make you cool as a cucumber in your kitchen. That Christmas after demonstrating I figured out a thing or two about my culinary prowess, I got another gift – a year’s subscription to ‘Cooks Illustrated‘ and the famed ‘Good Housekeeping Cookbook‘. In the matter of five years, I’ve gone from being an expert microwave user to an amazing (and modest) chef! I’ve learned how to make homemade chicken noodle soup, salad dressing from scratch, craftmy own pizzas and toss up a mean stir-fry.
Since I’m always up for a new challenge, I started scouring the interwebs for ways I could enhance my skill-set. I’ve been itching to have a ‘make-your-own-sushi‘ party or a fun, date night where my boyfriend and I craft our own ice cream – but when I found recipes to infuse my own olive oils I knew I’d hit the jackpot! I’m a sucker for a beautiful bottle of wine, beer or hard alcohol and this provides an adorable way to preserve and decorate the bottle for personal use or for your closest family and friends.
Olive Oils can be infused one of two ways – either through ‘Hot Infusion’ or through ‘Cold Infusion.’ The ultimate difference is time and taste – cold infusion should take approximately two weeks but a hot infusion can occur in one day; on the flip side, cold infusions preserve the flavors of your herbs and veggies while doing it ‘hot’ allows for their tastes to be altered. I’ve done this both ways now and can tell you from experience that I prefer doing it the cold route. One reason some like it hot is to reduce the risk of botulism – but as long are you’re careful and follow these simple steps, you can avoid it with cold infusion as well:
- mix the olive oil + herbs + spices and refrigerate for two weeks
- preserve the added ingredients in a strong brine or vinegar
- dehydrate all herbs so all that remains are the essential oils
- self-press your olives with the spices in the press
Now, let’s get down to business!
: DIY Infused Olive Oils :
Prep: 15-20 min
- a few old wine, beer or liquor bottles; preferably with awesome labels and clear glass (canning jars are an excellent substitute!)
- rubber stoppers, spouts, or twist on tops for the bottles
- (hot infusion) sauce pan
- fresh + fried herbs like rosemary, tarragon, mint, basil
- salts + spices: lemon pepper, ‘regular‘ pepper, sea salt, cumin, cayenne pepper
- fruit like citrus, like lemons, limes or oranges; you can even grate or peel the rinds, and peppers, chilies, jalepenos, red + yellow peppers (for color)
- veggies like garlic, red onion, shallots, etc etc
- extra virgin olive oil, or whatever oils you typically cook with
- if you choose to preserve your veggies + herbs first, brine or vinegar
- wash all of your ingredients and dry them as much as you can; fun fact: botulism can’t grow in olive oil on its own, it’s actually caused by bacteria growing on the remaining water in your herbs!
- wash + dry your bottle; then make sure your bottle + stopped have an excellent seal (canning jars work, too!)
- to prep your infusion: expose natural oils in your herbs by bruising them, toast + crush spices, slice fruits + veggies in thin pieces
- (cold infusion) cram salts, spices, herbs, fruits + veggies into olive oil; seal the bottle for approximately 1.5-2 weeks in a dark, cold place (re: fridge)
- (hot infusion) before putting them in the bottle, place all ingredients + oil in a saucepan and cook to 180°. this is definitely the quickest way, how to-the ever this changes the taste and flavor of both your ingredients and your oil
- it’s a personal choice whether you want to strain your ingredients or leave them in; personally, i love the look + taste so i leave them in but if you choose to remove them: (cold) strain mixture after 2 weeks of rest + (hot) strain mixture after cooking
- infused olive oils typically last for a month, give or take a few weeks (or, signs of spoiling). which is more of a reason to make it pretty, because if you don’t finish them they make beautiful table pieces.
Last but not least, remember to enjoy your creation! Infused olive oils are a great way to quickly add flavor to a simple meal like scrambled eggs and for dipping breads pre-meal or as a snack. Also, if you’ve been gifted with a bottle of wine or liquor, this is the perfect way to return the favor - or, pay it forward.