Vodka Tasting: 5 Infused Vodka Recipes

     One of my favorite Russian experiences was vodka tasting. Prior to our trip to Russia (spring 2012), I drank vodka in an occasional Bloody Mary, but other than that, I pretty much avoided the stuff.
    When is Russia . . . it seemed only natural to embrace not only their food but their drink as well. So, I signed us up for vodka tasting where we also learned all about the traditions and customs associated with the national beverage.
     Our favorites were the flavored vodkas so I’ve been experimenting with some infusions that we recently served at a Russian-themed dinner party. Three vodkas were offered before dinner along with lots of appetizers (see notes following recipe), one during dinner, and the final one prior to dessert (vodkas are listed below in the order in which they were served).

Flavored Vodka . . . make your own in 5 steps:
1.  Purchase inexpensive vodka, such as Popov® (as they say you wouldn’t want to interfere with the flavor of high priced vodka).
2.  Filter it 5 to 8 times through a Brita® or Pur® water filter (the filtering is said to put Popov® into the Grey Goose® category).
Filtering the vodka through our Brita water filter.
3.  Fill an airtight jar with fresh ingredients, pour vodka over, store in refrigerator.
Ready to go into the refrigerator.
4.  Taste at regular intervals starting at 4 days; some things will infuse faster than others (generally 6 to 7 days are ideal).
5.  Strain out the additives; transfer to another bottle and refrigerate until ready to drink.
Rebottled and label added.
Flavor Additions: These are the flavors I tried but I’d also like to experiment with strawberry vodka and lemon as well. I’ve added comments from those who tried the vodka in italic.
1.  Basil Tomato Vodka – a small bunch of basil + 2 or 3 small tomatoes left whole infused in 750ml (just a little over 3 cups) of vodka for about 6 days. “Nice blend of flavors.”
2.  Red Pepper, Peppercorn & Thyme Vodka – ½ of a red pepper + 2 teaspoons black peppercorns + several stems of thyme infused in 750ml (just a little over 3 cups) of vodka for about 6 days. “This one has a bite.”
3.  Garlic Jalapeño Vodka – 1 jalapeño (remove seeds, cut in half) + two garlic bulbs (peel) infused in 750ml (just a little over 3 cups) of vodka for about 6 days. Could also be used in Bloody Mary’s. “Spicy.”
4.  Cucumber Thyme Vodka – 1 small cucumber, cut into chunks + several sprigs thyme infused in 750ml (just a little over 3 cups) of vodka for about 6 days. “Mild.”
5.  Chocolate Mint Vodka – a bunch of chocolate mint leaves infused in 750ml (just a little over 3 cups) of vodka for about 5 to 6 days. “Minty with a hint of chocolate.”

2013 Holiday addition: Peppermint Vodka

·   Never drink alone.
·   Never sip; drink in one gulp. 
·   After drinking, breathe in to enjoy the full effects. 
·   Always toast -- toast health, friendship, love, country, to vodka, etc.

5 Stages of Vodka
1.  Warm – creates a warm feeling as it is drunk.
2.  Relax – body & mind begin to relax
3.  Truth – the truth comes out!
4.  Friendship – everyone becomes a friend!
5.  Love – everyone becomes a BEST friend!

Russians & their Vodka
·   Vodka is the traditional drink. Over 3500 types available in Russia.
·   80-proof is best. May be potato or grain based; Russians prefer rye based.
·   Russians believe that vodka should not be stored, rather it should be drunk immediately as the spirits escape if stored too long.
·   Chill vodka but do not freeze (freezing makes either expensive or cheap vodka taste the same). Never serve at room temperature!
·   Allow half a liter of vodka per person.
·   After drinking vodka, do NOT go down in alcohol content . . . or suffer the consequences!
·   It is a must to eat lots when drinking vodka. Salt, fat and bread are essentials and typical foods include: marinated/pickled olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, capers, onions; dill pickle slices (they help cut the sharpness of vodka); salted fresh cucumber slices, tomato wedges; rye bread, rye bread with thin slices of white pork fat, smoked bacon.

1 + 1+ 1 = S’mores Dessert

It all adds up: A layer of graham cracker + a batch of homemade chocolate pudding + a layer of marshmallow = S’mores Dessert!

S’mores Dessert
1. Crust
1 ¾ cups graham cracker crumbs
1 stick butter, melted

a.     Add melted butter and graham cracker crumbs to the bottom of a 9” square cake pan; mix well and press down evenly.
Mixing the ingredients in the pan means less dishes to clean up.
b.     Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned.
c.     Cool.
d.     Using the edge of a spoon, carefully scrap about 2 tablespoons of the crumb mixture from the surface of the crust; reserve crumbs.
e.     Make according to recipe link for Chocolate Pudding.
f.      Cool slightly and pour into graham cracker crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumbs.
Dessert is ready to go into the refrigerator.
g.     Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

3. Topping
About ¾ of a 12 oz. bag of miniature marshmallows

h.     Before serving, spread a layer of marshmallows over pudding. Place pan in the middle of oven, with the temperature set on broil. Broil, watching carefully, just 3 or 4 minutes – marshmallows should be lightly brown and soft.
i.      Serve. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Finally got around to making . . . Buffalo Chicken Dip

     I’ve clipped (as in Evernote) and pinned (on Pinterest) similar recipes, even folded down the edges of magazines that featured this spicy combination of dip ingredients. Now, I’ve actually combined and tweaked those recipes to create my version of Buffalo Chicken Dip.
     Well, it if was left totally up to me, the recipe would call for at least 1 cup+ of hot sauce. But, Barry reminded me that there are others who might like to eat it, too! My solution — go with a minimum in the dip but serve a bottle of hot sauce on the side.
     Most recipes call for equivalent amounts of canned chicken that has been drained. I prefer to cook my own but, our recipe for frozen chicken mix could also be used in this recipe.  

Buffalo Chicken Dip
2 cups cooked chicken breast, finely chopped
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened (I use the reduced fat kind)
1 cup ranch dressing
4 tablespoons (¼ cup) hot sauce (such as Tabasco®)
1½ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1.     Heat chicken and hot sauce in a Dutch oven or pot over medium heat, until heated through. Stir in cream cheese, ranch dressing and shredded cheese; heat, stirring until well blended and warm.
Chicken and hot sauce heat in the bottom of a Dutch oven
Other ingredients have been added and blended.
2.     Although you could simply pour the mixture into a bowl and serve at this point, here are two other alternatives:
a.     Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker. Cook on Low setting until hot and bubbly – about an hour.
b.     Transfer to a deep-dish pie plate or casserole dish. Bake in 350° oven for 20 minutes or until the mixture in hot and bubbly.
Note: Dip could be made ahead, refrigerated and then heated at a later time using either method a. or b.

Serve with crackers or tortilla chips; add some celery sticks (or other veggies), for dipping, too.

LUNCH IDEA -- I had a little bit of dip that wouldn't fit into the slow cooker so today we baked potatoes and used the microwaved dip as a topper. It was a quick, easy and tasty lunch.

Centerpiece becomes 1st course — Garden Gazpacho

     Chilled gazpacho seemed like a great first course soup, but I also needed a low centerpiece for a small dinner party. And, that’s how soup ended up in juice glasses, lined up in the center of our dining room table.
     Since we were drinking the soup, I thinned it with broth but otherwise I just used our garden produce in a soup that did double duty!

Garden Gazpacho
1 cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled
2  bell peppers, scored and seeded
4 plum tomatoes
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups (23 oz.) tomato juice
¼ cup white vinegar or use red wine vinegar if desired
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons prepared horseradish
4 to 5 dashes of hot sauce (such as Tabasco®)
½ tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Chicken, beef or vegetable broth for thinning – start with about ¾ cup and add more as needed
Rimming salt if desired  

1.     Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions into 1-inch cubes. Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped. Do not overprocess!

2.     After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Mix well, adding broth if needed to thin the soup.

3.     Chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.
4.     If desired, rim glasses with prepared salt and fill with soup for drinking, or serve in a small cup with a spoon.