Tag Archives: Cooking

Infused Vodkas


Make holiday gifts for your drinking friends.This is for you fellow procrastinators. If you are like me, you think once you get through Thanksgiving that you have a fair amount of time before you are handing out the presents. This is an awesome gift you can whip this up in about 5 days. You should keep in mind you may be getting drunk dials from your friends telling you how much they “love you man” after they try it.

I have done a lot of experimenting with infusing vodkas over the years and they make great, homemade gifts that are inexpensive and dazzle the brain of your drinking pals. Who knows, you could eventually launch a career as a mixologist creating new and exciting flavor combinations (which you should share with us).

Here is the Ninja skill info:

VODKA: You don’t need to use expensive vodka when infusing.  I prefer to buy Smirnoff triple distilled as it is a good clean vodka, and you can buy it in bulk. Sometimes it is on sale around the holidays. If you use cheaper vodka than that, I have heard running it through a water pitcher that has a built in filter three times.  I haven’t tried it, but it sounded like good information to share. If you are in a hurry and want to kill two birds with one stone, a good vodka bottle that you can reuse easily is EFFEN Vodka. You can cut the rubber label off quickly and reuse to decant back into. 

GIFTING: Jars and bottles with attached rubber stoppers are great for gift-giving. You can find them at craft stores or at stores like World Market. Mason jars can be found at dollar stores, grocery stores, antique shops, even garage sales and are cost-effective. You can purchase new lids and rubber rings at grocery stores (most of the time). A quick way to finish off the look is by cutting a thin piece ribbon or kitchen string and make a small folded card on some thicker paper.   Handwrite the ingredients you used or a recipe you like to suggest.  Punch a hole through the folded card and tie around the neck of the bottle. Awesome gift giver…check!

DECANTING: With any ingredients you leave in the bottle, once the vodka level has diminished, the ingredients can mold if exposed. Then, it has to be thrown away. It is a better idea to infuse then decant into a new jar for long-term storage.   This will make the vodka last for months or even a year. Pour slow to keep the ingredients at the bottom, or use a fine strainer to pour into another container.


I will spare you the dramatic details of my failures. Some ingredients will work, others do not and require you pour it down the drain.  You should always use ORGANIC ingredients when possible. Especially with fruit and herbs. A good rule is to not use anything that won’t hold shape in water over a day. Don’t try throwing chocolate or cheese into vodka, it isn’t going to be good.


1. Cherries – sounds great but was horrid.

2. Peaches- I added two ripe peaches and there was no peach taste at all. I am convinced that the only way to get peach flavored vodka is to use artificial ingredients.

3. Just throwing in citrus. It looked pretty but the pith made it bitter…so make sure to follow the decanting directions or you will just be back to the drain.

Feel free to post comments on this post with any trials you have created that may have made this list.


1. Citrus: lemons, (Meyer or regular) oranges, tangerines, limes and grapefruit. Just make sure they are ORGANIC as you don’t want a bunch of pesticides in

Investing in a quality zester is recommended.

your drink. Seriously, don’t even bother as you would have to heat up the skins to remove all the wax on regular fruit and it is a pain in the buttocks. Always zest the lemon or it will become bitter because of the pith (the white part between the rind and the fruit).  If you use the rind, you can always leave it in the bottle.

ZESTING NOTES: Zest two-three rinds of the citrus of your choice with a potato peeler or zester and add to a large jar.   You can use a lot more if you want just a citrus blend. Choose fruits that have a smoother rind for easier zesting. Buy extra fruit if you want to avoid the pith as it is better to just use another lemon or orange instead of risking the bitterness. Make sure to avoid all the white on the fruit, especially lemons.  You can add other items like cranberries, rosemary or ginger.

2. Raspberries: Black or red work great but you will have to decant as the color is drained from the fruit and it looks like creepy white brains floating about. Lemon works well with this fruit.

3. Bloody Mary (Savory): A combo or alone – Garlic, Bell Peppers (a combo of color looks nice) Horseradish, Onions, Jalapenos and Basil (If you use basil, make it easy to remove as it looks gross after a couple of days. You can use a spice ball or mesh tea ball  If you use a wide mouth jar to infuse your vodka, you can always remove it and leave the rest in if you wanted, just keep in mind the levels of the vodka keep it from molding.

4. Cranberries: Great addition to the citrus flavors or by itself.

5. Ginger – This makes a great cocktail with seltzer water and lemonade. You can buy the crystallized ginger at places like Trader Joe’s, World Market and Whole Food’s.

6.  Some other combos are Vanilla and Cardamon, Beet and Horseradish and a great list at Martha Stewart’s web site with the number of days to infuse the vodka flavors. I haven’t tried any of these, but they all look amazing, especially the Cardamon, Anise and Chile recipe.

MMM. Vodka.


(makes 3 gift bottles or 4-6 jars depending on the size)

  • Large sealed container or containers to infuse the vodka
  • Sterilized jars or clean bottles to decant your finished vodka into
  • Ingredients you want to infuse
  • Large bottle of vodka such approx 1.5 liters


1. Add vodka to large container or divide if using multiple containers

2. Add ingredients you want to infuse

3. Let sit in a dark cool place for 4-5 days unless you are using a recipe that requires less time

4. Decant into clean bottles

5. For gifts, decorate for a nice finishing touch and include recipes of ways to use the vodkas if they are really unusual combinations
6. If for yourself, a cool way to display on your holiday table check out this additional craft at Martha Stewart on vodka ice blocks made with juice containers. If you use the napkins like she shows, don’t use cranberries as they stain like mad. I like the greenery and oranges…very beautiful.
Drink Responsibly. Do not spill this!

Organic Bourbon Ice Cream

Wow, has this recipe been an adventure! We tested ten batches to bring you the best Bourbon Ice Cream recipe. The even better news is you can substitute any liquor you want! The best news is that it is easy.

I purchased the ice cream maker when I was testing out the Pina Colada recipe back in July. This opened up a new world of bad adult behavior for me. A reader suggested I try making bourbon ice cream. I must note that I am not a straight whiskey drinker. I like the tasting notes in Bourbon and knew it would blend well with ice cream. I started researching recipes and found almost all of them require eggs, which is really a custard. I don’t really feel like spending a lot of time on making this and want it to be easy. Also, I tried making the custard and it was a disaster. I was chatting with NinJo and wasn’t paying attention. In less than a second the stupid mixture turned to scrambled eggs.  I was furious as I just wasted a vanilla bean which is expensive and time consuming to clean.  I now have sworn custard off completely. I want to make ICE CREAM.


  • All alcohol should be added in at the end. Otherwise, it does not freeze no matter how hard you pray. It worked in the Pina Colada as there was no dairy in it.
  • Making small batches works much better than large ones. For some reason it became more whipped.  You need to freeze it after you make it unless you prefer the soft serve.  So plan to take a couple days to make small batches or purchase additional crucibles.
  • If you use too much heavy whipping cream, it leaves a buttery film on your tongue. It works in heated dishes because it doesn’t solidify, but in cold dishes it is not a pleasant texture.  I tried substituting more milk for it but it was too icy, eliminating it made it too light.  Organic Valley is my favorite brand for both heavy cream and 1/2 and 1/2 as it is grass fed cow’s milk which give it a much better flavor. Many organic farmers  feed their cows organic corn and we all should know that cows prefer grass!  If you have to use another brand, that is okay, just use organic as it is more humane to cows, and cows are our friends.
  • The last lesson we learned was a borderline annoying amount about vanilla. So much, I am going to write a separate article about it.   In a nutshell, the best vanilla product on the market is  Nielsen-Massey “vanilla bean paste”.  You can pick this up at Williams-Sonoma, Fresh Market or another specialty food store. It is different than their vanilla extract or beans, so look for the paste. Vanilla beans are a pain to clean and storage is not long term. I had a dried up bean which is crazy irritating, considering the cost. Vanilla paste has sugar and actual vanilla bean seeds in it which give the ice cream an authentic vanilla look.  Most vanilla extracts will work but any vanilla product quality is far superior with the Nielsen-Massey brand.  We recently visited their facility and were blown away by how amazing of a company they are.  It took a lot of self control seeing gallons of this sitting around and not just pop open one and do a shot.(Um, yes, it is that good) You can use this product for creme brule’s, coffee and just about anything would use vanilla in. With over 200 tasting notes that not even all have been identified, vanilla is my new favorite ingredient(sorry, had to slip a fact in there).

So, NinJo and I experimented through-and-through to find you an easy, sure-fire method of this recipe. I hope to create more recipes in the future for adult ice cream and will keep you informed. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS: Serves 2-3 depending on your portions.

3/4 cup of organic heavy whipping cream.
3/4 cup of organic half and half
1/4 cup of organic sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1-2 tablespoons quality bourbon (we used Knob Creek) Use 1 if you are serving guests who “may” like it, 2 if you know your guests are fans of bourbon.
Optional: 1/4 cup candied pecans


  1. Make sure your ice cream maker crucible is frozen according to your manual.
  2. Mix everything except the bourbon in a measuring cup, (this is important as I found out the hard way it will freeze the ingredients as you put them in and will not mix for you. You will end up with little globs of whatever you added first)
  3. Remove the crucible from the freezer and put it on the turntable of the machine, add mixing insert and put on the lid. (may vary for different machines)
  4. Turn on the machine and immediately pour the mixture into the spout. It is important to do this right away as it will allow it to freeze better.
  5. Let the mixture blend for 15 minutes or until solid.
  6. Add bourbon and pecans if you are adding those and knock off any globs of ice cream from the mixing insert.
  7. Let the mixture blend for another 3-5 minutes.
  8. Remove the insert and transfer ice cream into a covered container and put into the freezer for a couple of hours. Or, eat the entire batch right out of the crucible as we will not judge you.

French Quarter Oyster Crawlin’


Shuckin' at Felix's - drool

My studio is registering a ridiculous 98°F degrees on the thermostat. I now know what that F stands for.  As I sit and boil, I try to think of places hotter than where I am right now. I certainly would be more miserable in New Orleans heat now, right?

Wrong, it’s five degrees cooler and they have way better food and drinks there.  This did not make me feel better. So, I decided to write a long overdue post about an oyster crawl my main ninja Jo and I created for visits to “NOLA”.

This is the second crawl we designed. In Kitchen Ninja style, we eliminated and added new locations to the crawl. This is a work in progress. Sweet.

NOLA: I am not going to go into my obsessive love for New Orleans. In a nutshell, I have been there a bunch, I love it, it is like drugs  to my soul.   However, I can’t live there. I would get big as a house and get nothing accomplished. This is because I would easily adapt to the lifestyle of 5 hour happy hours. I “do” NOLA in moderation and often as possible.  This is usually an extended weekend trip once a year, “done up right” and then continue to fantasize about the next trip for the rest of the year.  I am still a tourist, I am not claiming to be a native. I am a huge fan. I celebrate their whole catalog.

OYSTERS: The most excellent thing about oysters is that you can eat a ton of them and not get full. The second best thing is there are so many ways to prepare them, and they are all most excellent. Unfortunately, due to the BP oil spill a lot of NOLA oysters are being imported from other locations from the Gulf. This is sad because the local oysters are far bigger and better but what can they do? On the right is a map of the Gulf oyster area.

CRAWL: I have bolded the specialty from each restaurant we recommend. You can do this in one night, but it takes a while so don’t make too many more plans after except maybe a stroll down Frenchman street for some great music at the Spotted Cat. You don’t need reservations to do this crawl. You can do it on your own as you can order half dozen orders at most places. If you are worried about dress code, then you can always sit at the bar. Nobody really judges dress in the French Quarter, but some places like Mr. B’s and Bourbon House have a little more formal looking clientele. I don’t think they really care at all, but sitting at the bar is a great option. Plus, you don’t take up a table because you will be there for such a short time.

How awesome am I? I created a printable Google Map for you to take with you.

Stop 1: Felix’s – 739 Iberville Street •   Tel: 504-522-4440

Ninja Jo

Ninja Jo about to do some damage!

This was our first stop on the first crawl and even though it didn’t go first on the second, I must list them first. This is because if you are only going to one place in the French Quarter for oysters, this is the place. It wins on atmosphere alone as it is a total dive and is the real deal. Both times we were there they served up Louisiana Oysters. They shuck them right on the bar and serve ’em fast. You even get to mix your own cocktail sauce!  Of course, there are plenty of crackers, Louisiana hot sauce and lemons on hand. We only ordered raw oysters on the half shell here, but they do have additional varieties including char-grilled, Rockefeller and Bienville.

A dozen and a half oysters later, we felt like we were done with this stop rather quickly (because it came so fast & went down so quickly), but we knew we had to move along to the next stop, across the street!

Stop 2: Bourbon House – 144 Bourbon Street  • Tel: 504- 522-0111

The trio at Bourbon House

Bourbon House Oyster Rockefeller Trio=heaven

Seriously friendly folks working here. We had this on both crawls and the service here is always over the top with

smiles. The bar is huge, has a beautiful display of ice for the oysters and they shuck them right in front of you if you sit on the round. Each time we visited here, we had champagne, a 1/2 dozen raw oysters (you can order them with caviar if you wish) and the “Trio of Oysters” which is a combination of three types of Rockefeller. Permanently added to the crawl. Oysters Fonseca, Oysters Rockefeller and Oysters Bienville make up the trio. A lot of restaurants have their own versions of the Rockefeller and Bienville, but this place offers you a variety which is most awesome. If you are not into raw oysters, this is the way to go! I am sure everything in this beautiful restaurant is fantastic, but we were on a mission!

Heaven at Red Fish Grill

I love you Red Fish Grill BBQ Oysters.

Stop 3: Red Fish Grill115 Bourbon Street • Tel: 504- 598-1200

HELLO! Where have you been all my life oh BBQ Oysters? Wow, talk about fan-tabulous! We sat at the bar, had Abita’s on draft and then ordered the BBQ oysters. The first batch came out a little sad as they were not really hot. However, the bartender was super attentive and quickly rushed us out a second batch and it was like giant hearts blew out of my eyes. Oysters are flash fried and tossed in a Crystal BBQ sauce, served with house-made blue cheese dressing. I am in love. I wouldn’t have posted the bit about the first batch, but wanted to commend the restaurant for its customer service and how it is important that they are hot when you eat them. Sometimes, things happen and it is the difference between coming back or not…or blogging about it! The rest of the menu looked divine, but not uncommon for the area. Discipline is difficult when you have had a few drinks in you.

To those outside of the area, this is NOT the crappy chain you may have seen or been to in the past. This is what kept me away the first crawl. Thanks to the kind folks at Bourbon House recommended this for a new addition.

Stop 4: Luke’s – 333 St. Charles Ave.

Luke in NOLA

Can be very dangerously good...happy hour specials!!!

This spot is not in the French Quarter but within a few blocks. You probably need a good walking by now.  If you are doing a full crawl, you should try to come here first perhaps take part of the Happy Hour Specials of $0.50 raw oysters and 1/2 price bar from 3pm to 6pm daily.  All of the drinks are off the charts! They have all the NOLA drink specialties like Sauzerac, Mint Julep and a tasty French 75. We also tried the highly recommended “assiette de charcuterie” plate served with stone-ground mustard, house-made pickles and country bread. They actually raise their own pork so it is super impressive. DIVINE. This is one of the restaurants in the mighty Chef John Besh collection.

Stop 5 (option 1): Arnaud’s813 Rue Bienville • 504.523.5433

This was our final stop on the first crawl for  baked oysters. We mostly stopped because Bananas Foster seem the easiest to go down even if you are full, and it is on fire. We loved that we could listen to some jazz, drink some champagne and watch flames going up all over the restaurant! I would like to start here on the next crawl as they have a great sampler of all of their varieties of baked oysters.

Best Fried oysters on the planet at Mr. B's

If only we could eat this every day. (Sigh) Mr. B's.

Stop 5(option 2): Mr. B’s Bistro – 201 Royal Street  • 504.523.2078

HOLY SHIT. (Yah? Whatever, just try and wash my mouth out with soap) If you haven’t had a fried oyster in your life, then wait until you get here because it is like the holy grail of fried oysters.  They are served on the half shell and topped with bacon-horseradish hollandaise.  Get a dozen if you are only coming here or a half dozen if you are on a crawl with a friend. Even if you are full, this should be the last stop on your crawl if you are looking for a good finish. Sit at the bar and enjoy! The desserts all looked really amazing but we had champagne instead. Everyone who ordered dessert at the bar sent their plates back empty. I did not get a good photo because it was dark and we just wanted to consume it quickly, but if you go to their web site you can see it. Look fast because your stomach may convince you to buy a flight out tonight.


Cochon: 930 Tchoupitoulas St – We didn’t eat here the same night as our oyster crawl because this place is an experience not to be messed

Cochon rules
Oysters so good, I almost messed myself.

with. I have to say the wood-fired oyster roast was the best prepared oysters I have ever had in my life.  Odd for a place that is the French word for “Pig”, but they nailed it! It is a short cab or good walk right from the FQ so you should check this place out!  Ninja’s LOVE Cochon! You will probably need a reservation here, but maybe can sit at the bar. Call ahead at 504- 588-2123

FOR MORE VARIATIONS TRY THESE: We went to Drago’s and it was closed. I have been told they have the best Char-broiled oysters, not the ones with bacon. Also want to check out Royal House as they apparently have some great ones too according to the concierge from the Hilton at Luke’s. We just didn’t have time! Also, try a fried oyster Po’boy at some point on your visit but not on the crawl as it will fill you up on bread!

SKIPS: Acme Oyster House….long line, had the charbroiled oysters which were good but not really worth standing in line for. The atmosphere we a bit bleak and over touristy. If you must go to this place, maybe check out the one at the airport.

Now I know there are more oyster joints than in the FQ. So if you want to comment on this post, keep in mind I moderate and don’t want a bunch of complaints I forgot so and so, etc. Some places we went to on the outskirts don’t count as FQ but it isn’t more than a couple blocks so I listed them anyway. This is our crawl and it is meant as a guide to help other crawlers. If you want to add to the blog about other places in the vicinity (especially if you are local), please send me the name, address or web site and what the best oyster dish or dishes are that you recommend. I will approve comments that contribute!

There may be a risk associated with consuming raw shellfish, as is the case with other raw protein products. If you suffer from chronic illness of the liver, stomach or blood, or have other immune disorders, you should eat these products fully cooked.

Peanut Sauce but really Sweet & Savory Sauce

If you get a Buddhist drunk enough, they will tell you what you want to know.

If you have ever been the the Magic Kitchen in Springfield, IL, you probably have realized this is the best Thai restaurant on the planet. This is a family owned joint, operating out of a remodeled gas station from 1970-something. It is not fancy, it is mostly full of extremely loud white people drinking beer out of coolers. I am from the Springfield area so I was one of those loud people for a long time. Don’t bother posting anything about me being racist, there are loud obnoxious people of all races, but here, mostly white people.

There are several items on the menu that are absolutely a must when you visit. Thai egg rolls, chicken satay, bao buns, bame noodle soup, pad thai, basil squid, ginger chicken, the list could go on and on.  All have a spice range of mild, mild plus, medium, medium plus and hot. The prices are extremely cheap so it is not a big deal to over order and take home the rest. I would eat the cold leftovers off the middle of Lakeshore Drive well after the five second rule, with a huge grin on my face.

The one thing that people rave about is the “peanut sauce”.  After moving to Chicago and experiencing other peanut sauces, is actually missed-named. Traditional peanut sauce is made with coconut milk and peanut butter and probably will kill you on the spot if you ate too much of it. This sauce is dark brown, clearish and vinegar based. It has peanuts floating on it, but it is NOT peanut sauce. So cracking this recipe was hard to figure out.

I finally found something sort-of-like the recipe called Sweet and Savory Sauce in an excellent Thai cookbook. I decided to use this as a base. I went to my Thai grocery and bought everything and anything I could that would possibly be an ingredient. I drove to Springfield, bought a pint of the sauce, drove back to Chicago and set up my lab. I am not joking when I say lab. I take this very seriously. I tried eight different recipes. It looked exactly the same, but couldn’t get the taste right.

Months later, at a holiday party in Springfield, my foodie prayers were answered. The ONE guy who worked there who was not family nor Thai, but was a Buddhist, happened to be at the same party! I strategically stalked him, watching the drinks flow into his body and then I made my move. I started a friendly chat about how I recognized him from the restaurant, and how I was trying to crack the recipe for the sauce. Awkward laughing. I asked him if he could tell me. He politely said no. More awkward laughing. I then joked a bit and told him how I have tested it extensively and all my fruitless labors. He seemed intrigued. I then told him about how I swear there must be deerblood in that or some other magical ingredient because I tried everything from Sprite, etc. He looked impressed… I put on my serious face. I then just flat out asked, if I tell you what I THINK goes in it, will you tell me if I am right or wrong. He agreed. Merry Christmas Buddha!

Then instead of Yes, No, he corrected me under his wine veil. Brown sugar? NO, dark brown sugar. Heart racing. Vinegar? NO, apple cider vinegar! Light headed. Chili paste? NO, tamarind paste! Near fainting from excitement. The sugar part? PINAPPLE JUICE! I got the peanut part right, yay!

I actually wanted to leave the party at that point, drive back to Chicago to make it right then. This was like the getting the missing link for us Springfield people. Ironically, I didn’t live there anymore.

So I tried the recipe again, this time much closer but it just wasn’t right with the proportions. I had my friend Jen up to visit to unveil the sauce, but it just wasn’t right. We drank a little too much wine, and then I got mad and poured a ton of juice into it out of spite. The next morning, we tried it and it was perfect!!! (It took a couple more tries to figure out what I did after that wine incident) but here is what I can confidently send you out into the world with. It is best with FRIED STUFF or a spring roll.  Do not substitute anything. Do not try and use this if a recipe asks for peanut sauce because it IS NOT peanut sauce.

1/2 c Apple Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 c Dark Brown Sugar

In a small sauce pan, heat the vinegar up on medium heat. Add the sugar and stir until melted.

Then add to taste:
4 tbsp Tamarind Paste
At least 4 small cans of Dole Pinapple Juice
Deerblood. Just kidding.
Crushed Unsalted Fresh Roasted (if you can get them) Peanuts ADD after it cools

This stores for about 2 weeks in the fridge as it is basically vinegar and sugar. The trouble is that no fried foods are as good as those tiny magic gem eggrolls! If you find out how to make them please return to me with recipe. Sorry, I don’t have a photo. Next time I make it, I will post one. Or, send me a photo if you make it!

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