You know the old saying, 'Oil and vinegar don't mix?" Well, I say they do! At least paired as a Christmas gift, that is!
Over the years I have had to come up with something that wasn't expensive but didn't scream 'Cheap!' to give as gifts to friends and neighbors. Several times I have made flavored vinegars and oils for cooking or dipping. If you've priced these lately, the nice ones can run over $8.00 each and the cheaper ones aren't worth the nickel you paid for them. I can show you how to make flavored vinegars and oil in the most simplest and inexpensive ways and then give some suggestions on making some that are a bit more expensive and different. It all depends on the ingredients you use and the containers you store them in. If you are making vinegar and oils for gifts, I would recommend making one big jar of them for the 'melding of flavors' period and then put the liquid in separate gift bottles.
There are always safety precautions when making jarred and bottled food at home so at the end of this article, I have listed a few suggested steps to keep your loved ones safe! If you feel there may be more to these steps, there are many places online that give recommendations that you can follow.
The first Christmas gift I made many, many years ago was raspberry vinegar. It was getting close to the The Big Day and I didn't have any idea what I was going to do for neighbors or as a hostess gift. I found a simple recipe and just threw the vinegar in little jars with a pretty ribbon wrapped around it and a label with a 'Use after' date. It was a big hit! Who doesn't like a little variety on the dreaded 'Salad, again?' It makes those crispy vegetables taste that much better when you use a vinegar or oil made with love!
Here are two recipes for raspberry vinegar that went well for me:
Simple Raspberry Vinegar
3 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
32 oz white wine vinegar (organic if you wish)
1-1 ½ cups sugar (to taste-I like it sweet!)
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover; reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Pour through a wire mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth; discard solids. Pour into jars or bottles that have been sterilized in boiling water or the dishwasher set on 'Sanitary'. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator. Label with ingredients and 'keep refrigerated' note.
Raspberry and Thyme Vinegar
1-liter glass bottle with tight lid, sterilized in boiling water or the dishwasher set on 'Sanitary'.
3 cups fresh raspberries
white vinegar (organic, if you wish)
4 fresh thyme sprigs (with flowers if you can find them)
8 whole peppercorns
1x3-inch lemon peel
Place lemon peel into bottle. Add peppercorns and thyme sprigs. Fill bottle with washed raspberries. Slowly add white vinegar to top of bottle. Cap tightly and place on kitchen counter away from direct sunlight for people to admire while it turns raspberry red for up to two weeks. Pour through a wire mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth; discard solids. Pour into jars or bottles that have been sterilized in boiling water or the dishwasher set on 'Sanitary.' Place a few raspberries and/or thyme sprigs in bottle for decoration. Label with ingredients and 'keep refrigerated' note.
If you are making this close to the planned Delivery Date; make a note on the label that says; 'Open after ....' with the date it will be ready. I can't tell you how many times I have done this with the vinegar or whatever else I am putting in jars and it needed to 'meld'. I figure if it gets done, it's all good!
Just to give you an idea of the cost, I calculated how much it would be to make 8 gifts from one Simple Raspberry Vinegar recipe. Frozen organic raspberries are usually around $6 a bag (which is about the 3 cups needed in one recipe) and the vinegar can run real cheap. I found regular vinegar in the grocery store for just a couple dollars for 32 oz. It's a bit more if you want it to be organic. Containers found at Cost Plus or Wal-Mart can run anywhere from $2 each or up to $6 each. I usually get containers that hold about 4 oz of liquid. The ingredients end up costing around $1/per gift and to that you add the cost of the container. I feel this is a great deal; inexpensive ingredients and container, a little effort and you have yourself a gift that, once received, will be much appreciated for its thoughtfulness.
You can use all kinds of ingredients when making flavored vinegars. I will list flavor suggestions but don't limit yourself to them. Exact proportions of ingredients are not that important (but I will give guidelines). You can buy wine vinegars inexpensively, by the gallon, in a restaurant supply house or warehouse-type food stores.
Also, don't forget that you can make any of these vinegars for yourself! I am constantly forgetting that little piece of information and have recently been indulging myself by pulling all the ingredients together in an afternoon and reaping the benefits in a matter of a few weeks. We're worth it, too, right?
Suggested Flavored Vinegar Combinations:
Basil Lemon Chive Vinegar
1 cup white wine vinegar
3 large strips of lemon zest
3-4 whole leaves fresh basil
10 stalks fresh chives
Basil Peppercorn Vinegar
1 cup white wine vinegar
4-5 leaves fresh basil
½ to 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
3-4 whole peeled garlic cloves
Dill Peppercorn Vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
4 sprigs fresh dill
½ to 1 tsp whole black peppercorn
Rosemary Garlic Vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
4-5 peeled whole garlic cloves
4 sprigs rosemary
Cut ingredients to a size that will be completely submerged in the liquid, depending on the size and shape of your container. Put ingredients into clean containers and pour red or white wine vinegar over them. Cap container and store in cool, dark place for at least three weeks. If you want to speed this process up, heat vinegar until it's lukewarm and pour it over ingredients that have been chopped or crushed. Store this container in a cool, dry place for at least 10 days, then strain and discard the chopped or crushed ingredients from the vinegar. Return vinegar to a new, clean container and add new solid ingredients for a nice decoration. Label with ingredients and 'keep refrigerated' note. If made closer to the Delivery Date than the 3-week or 10-day time period, again, make a note of when it can be used.
Pairing your vinegar gift with a flavored olive oil would make it that much better, wouldn't it? I have always been accused of being addicted to excess but I've tried to do it the least expensive way possible (OK! OK! That one Christmas I went crazy with the granddaughters does NOT count!). What can be easier than pulling out a flavored oil, drizzle it on a plate, sprinkle some fresh cracked pepper on it and use it for dipping good bread? Easy-Peasy appetizer presented in seconds!
Flavored olive oil is just as easy as flavored vinegar and you can use your imagination or personal preferences as a guide to what kind to make. Be sure to go over the safety precautions when you get started.
This is a basic recipe that you can follow and add the flavor combinations you prefer from the list that I provide.
1 sterile bottle or wide-mouth jar
1 tsp peppercorns (optional)
8-10 sprigs herbs
olive oil to fill jar
Place the herbs and peppercorns into the sterile bottle or wide mouth canning jar. Use a funnel to decant the olive oil into the bottle to cover the herbs. Seal. Keep refrigerated.
Lemon and dill
Tarragon and chive
Lemon and garlic (a big favorite!)
Garlic, onion, and basil
Basil and garlic
Cilantro and lime
Rosemary and Marjoram
Garlic, onion, oregano and red bell pepper (this makes a beautiful presentation!)
Note: when using large pieces of fruit or vegetables, cut them into small wedges or pieces to fit into the bottle. Use bamboo skewers to hold the pieces together in the bottle while you are pouring in the oil.
Safety Tips for Flavored Vinegars and Oils:
The high acidity of vinegars prevents the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria, the deadly bacteria that causes botulism. Some vinegars, however, can support the growth of E. coli bacteria, so precautions are advised.
Use clean sanitized jars. Immerse jars/bottles in boiling water for 10 minutes. Work with thoroughly cleaned herbs and produce. Dip them in a solution of one teaspoon of household bleach per six cups of water. Rinse in clear running water.
Heat the vinegar to just below boiling.
Place desired herb(s) in the sanitized bottles or jars and add hot vinegar.
Tightly cap and store in a cool, clean place for three to four weeks.
Once the flavored is developed, strain the vinegar one or more times using damp cheesecloth or coffee filters until the vinegar is no longer cloudy.
Pour the strained vinegar into a clean sterilized jar/bottle adding a sprig or two of fresh herbs (or berries) that have been sanitized as above.
Seal and store in the refrigerator. For best flavor, use within three or four months.
Oils flavored with garlic, herbs or dried tomatoes or combinations of these ingredients pose a health hazard if not kept refrigerated. Unrefrigerated garlic-in-oil mixtures lacking antimicrobial agents have been shown to permit the growth of C. Botulinum bacteria and its toxins, without affecting the taste of smell of the products. The FDA recommends that home-prepared mixtures of garlic-in-oil be made and used fresh.
Adding dried herbs to oil poses less of a risk because of the low water activity of the dried herbs. Fresh herbs, on the other hand, could support the growth of C. botulinum based on several factors, including high water activity and high pH. C. botulinum can be controlled in these products simply by refrigerating. The addition of fresh whole chilies or fleshy vegetables would also pose a C. Botulinum risk at room temperature storage.
Based on this information, it is recommended that all home-prepared flavored oil products should be stored at refrigerated temperatures. If the product was flavored with a fresh herb or vegetable, expect the shelf life of the product to be about three weeks in the refrigerator, longer for dried flavors.
You can find containers for vinegar and oil at any of the large grocery or department stores. There are some pretty ones at Cost Plus World Market, also. I like using an online site that has numerous selections for all kinds of jars and bottles. The products are of good quality and good prices. I have used them for years and always had good results. The website is: www.sks-bottle.com.