Read on to see how our newest contributer Cara Valla, sous chef at San Francisco's Chiaroscurro, is ready to throw a dinner party any night of the week:
Vinegar takes a longer time to absorb flavor, but it is soooo worth the wait. I recommend using a white balsamic, apple cider or champagne vinegar as the base - white vinegar tends to be too harsh. The general ratio of vinegar to herbs is 2:1, but can be altered to taste.
Cold-Infused Lemon Oil
4 cups Virgin Olive Oil
Peel each lemon carefully, removing as little pith as possible with the skin. Discard the lemons (or save them for some lemonade!). Add the lemon skins to the oil, seal the container, refrigerate, and allow the flavor to infuse for 3 days. It really is that simple!
Hot-Infused Garlic Oil
4 cups Virgin Olive Oil
8 whole peeled Garlic Cloves
Add ingredients to a saucepan and heat very very slowly until the garlic just barely starts to bubble around the edges. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Now you have aromatic oil AND delicious roasted garlic. Amazing.
PLEASE NOTE: Garlic can harbor C. botulinum - so be sure to consume your garlic oil within 10 days, or freeze it and use it at a later date.
Cold-Infused Strawberry-Basil Vinegar
1 1/2 cups Strawberries, stemmed
1/2 cup Basil Leaves
Wash the strawberries, rip the basil leaves by hand, and gently mash together in a large, clean and dry container. Add the lemon peel. Pour cold vinegar over the mixture, cover and store in a cool, dark place for one week, shaking it every few days.
After one week, strain out the fruit and reserve the vinegar in a saucepan. Add sugar and simmer the vinegar for 3 minutes, but do NOT let it boil. If any foam comes to the top, skim it off with a spoon.
Let the vinegar cool to room temperature, bottle and enjoy!
Hot-Infused Tarragon Shallot Vinegar
2 shallots sliced thinly
2 sprigs of tarragon
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2cups Champagne vinegar
Simply add your herbs to a clean and dry container, heat the vinegar to nearly boiling (190degrees if you have a thermometer), pour on top of the herbs, seal and let cool to room temperature. Place in the fridge and watch lovingly as flavors intermingle for 2-3 weeks. When you're satisfied with the flavor, strain out the aromatics, pour the vinegar into a shiny new container, and add a few decorative aromatics to the bottle for presentation.