Nothing is simple these days.
Liquor store shelves are filled with fancy flavored spirits, and the grocery store offers a multitude of flavored oils, vinegars, salt, and other ingredients.
Buy, and you can easily spend a small fortune for a shelf-full you might rarely use ($12 for a jar of salt? $20 for a one-off liquor?).
But take a pass, and you’re missing out on some great recipes.
The best solution: make ‘em yourself.
Infusions are mostly easy to make, and you can customize the recipe to make as much, or as little, as you need. There’s little waste—you can often use the infusion leftovers in their own recipe.
For example, Miyabi 45th in Seattle serves a house-made cherry-infused port, and also uses the boozy cherries in a foie gras dish.
(Plus, if you’re worrying about your holiday budget already, bookmark this. Infusions also make impressive inexpensive gifts.)
Some infusions worth trying:
Making simple syrup is, well, simple. It’s great in cocktails, sorbets and other dishes.
Bring equal parts water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Then turn the mixture to low heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, about five minutes.
For an infused version, add your choice of spices or herbs once the syrup has reached a boil—cinnamon sticks, mint leaves, dried chili peppers, and vanilla beans all work well.
You can make fruit versions using the pulp or juice, too.
Strain the flavored syrup, and then refrigerate. It will keep for up to six months.
Infused water can make it a little easier to get your recommended eight 8-ounce glasses a day.
For inspiration, think spa: Sliced lemons or cucumbers, pineapple, mint and strawberries all work.
Just combine and chill for at least two hours.
Table salt won’t cut it for this infusion. Start with a coarser salt, like kosher salt or sea salt.
Mix with your infusers—about a tablespoon per half-cup of salt. Citrus peels, herbs, and spices all work. So do tea, dried mushrooms and vegetables like ginger and garlic.
For larger infusions, consider pulsing the mix briefly in a food processor. Spread on a baking sheet. Bake at 225 degrees for an hour, turn, and then bake for another hour.
Break up any clumps and transfer to jars for storage. The infused salt keeps for up to six months, and works well in recipes and as a finishing salt.
Similar to infused salt, but here, it’s best to start with infusers that are already dry, such as vanilla beans, tea, espresso beans, rose petals and citrus peel.
(Use a dehydrator, or a tray in the oven on low heat, if necessary.)
Let infuse for at least a week. Strain out larger infusers before serving or gifting if desired. Keeps for about six months.
Try it in desserts, coffee, or as a rimming sugar for cocktails, among other options.
This one’s a little tricky.
Food safety experts recommend that home cooks stick to infusions using dried, rather than fresh, herbs and spices to avoid the risk of botulism.
If you do want to try using fresh items, follow the instructions carefully—you’ll need carefully cleaned items and tight-sealing containers.
No need to buy flavored spirits. Spices, fruits, vegetables—pretty much anything works here.
Imbibe magazine has a great guide for picking and layering flavors.
You can even use meats as infusers. A friend of Frugal Foodie makes bacon-infused gin, as well as brisket-infused vodka. (In both cases, the meats are cooked before being added.)
Infuse for a week or two before straining and bottling.
A good strawberry or ginger/honey balsamic is amazing in a salad or drizzled over fruit or ice cream.
To infuse your own, boil the vinegar and add the chopped infusers—fruit, vegetables, herbs, honey, spices, whatever you like.
Jar and let cool, and let steep for at least two weeks. Strain into another container and store, in the fridge, for up to a year.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.