My favorite time of the winter months has arrived! On and off the screen, the weeks before Christmas are something I really look forward to. On screen, my favorite Tyrian festival of the year is due to arrive soon – that impulse to stare up into the skies and search for the Infinitarium… Wintersday really makes me feel like a little kid sometimes! – off the screen I’m having a blast filling gift boxes for everyone I know with homemade yummies straight from my kitchen. Lots of chocolates, of course, but other things like chutneys, spice blends, preserves and the like as well.
I took on that habit when I started to realize that the stressed-out, annoyed people running around town like headless chicken with their fight faces on as Christmas is edging closer, are missing all the fun of the yuletide season, just because they have to find presents – any present or worse, “something personal, from the heart”, in between all those family or office obligations.
After making my lists of people about to get their faces stuffed with yummies, and ingredients lists for my chocolate-box menus, I spend one early morning – very early, because this time of the year, during “normal” shopping hours, you might just get the impression that there will be no stores of any kind anywhere anymore, starting in five minutes, and fall into the widespread-panic trap – working through my grocery list. Once I’m back home, having successfully dodged the masses, I stash everything away, lean back and relax. Add a couple of hours at a convenient point of time, about a week before the gig, to play with what that one shopping trip netted me, and I’m done! Aside from the “at any convenient time” deal, the best thing about kitchen-presents is: you can fine tune them to the person they’re meant for with absolute ease. Sweet-tooth? Homemade chocolates and Jams! Veggie-vore? Pickled veggies and Herb Blends! Carnivore? Pepper Blends or how bout some dolled up jars of Rilettes?
Which brings me to today’s agenda! In preparation for all the Wintersday festivities and plans for several days of binge-tripping through Tyria, I found myself having a sitdown with an all but bursting inventory and finally got to work de-cluttering the Ingredients Tab of my storage box. For the first time in all those years, I noticed that the Chef’s Guild, with all it’s talent and culinary splendor, limits itsself to exactly one type of oil: Vegetable Oil. For a guild in pursuit of the culinary arts, that fact struck me as very odd indeed. Well, a headscratcher like that was bound to have an impact on the inspiration-area of my mind! With my winter-cleanout project in Tyria abandoned and forgotten, the first impromptu set of gift-box goodies left my kitchen this side of the screen a couple of hours later~
Spiced or infused oils aren’t just an amazingly easy way to add tasty finishing touches to your dishes, with just a little bit of effort they also look pretty and make excellent additions to foodie baskets~! Another good thing about them: with the countless oils you could use as a base and the whole world of spices and herbs open to you, the possible combinations you could come up with are endless. To give you guys an idea, an easy access point, if you will, to this neverending story, I picked out three rather common types of base oil and went with flavors and spices I often use.
I hope I can give you guys some ideas for your own or someone else’s pantry in the weeks to come~!
Before we start, here’s a couple of things I would like to mention~
– As most things that have been “messed with”, oils pay with some of their shelf life for having their aroma boosted or altered, so make sure to not make these in bulk and keep them refrigerated afterwards.
– As you can see in the pictures, I stored the oils in glass bottles, a “long term” solution, as well as little plastic spray bottles, the “short term” way of storing and “shortcut deluxe” for the finishing-touch business I mentioned earlier. Just one or two pumps worth of spiced-oil-spray on your salad or meat can bring the dish to life on a whole new level. You can find those empty spray bottles at most well-sorted drugstores or stores offering cosmetics-related travel kits and the like. Make sure you pick the small ones – since they’re not really an airtight type of container, the oil won’t keep very long, what with it being in constant contact with air through the tube and all that. Keep those in the fridge and use the oil inside within the month.
– Spiced oils of the herby type, especially the ones you might decorate with a few sprigs of fresh herbs, don’t have a very long shelf life either. Thanks to some of the nutrients within the herbs reacting with the oil, the oil can turn rancid after 5-6 weeks. Storing the bottles in a cool and dark place helps a lot, but make sure to have a whiff of it after the first month, just to be sure.
– The seedy or spicy ones have a longer shelf life, assuming you store them right – again, cold and dark, preferably in brown glass bottles. Have a checkup-whiff before using it after 3-4 months, just to be safe.
– You can’t turn sh…eep into gold, no matter how hard you try. Use a good oil as a base.
– Try to keep it simple. Infusing oil with a certain flavor, intensifies that flavor quite a bit. Adding too many different spices or herbs to an oil might just create an overwhelmingly strong, more or less inedible concoction.
So, let’s get down to business~! Here’s what the Tyrian Chef’s Guild’s variety of oils or rather, the lack thereof, made me do~
The Roasted Seed Oil
250ml Sunflower Oil
1 Tbsp White Sesame Seeds
1 Tbsp Poppy Seeds – I wasn’t able to get any of the Black Sesame Seeds I normally use for this one, but the “I need something black to replace it” option, Poppy Seeds, turned out even better. Sticking to these from now on~
1 Tbsp Ruby Quinoa
1 Tbsp Chia Seeds
1 Tbsp Cashew Nuts, crushed – have some whole cashews on hand to decorate the bottles later
2 Coves of Garlic, thinly sliced
1) Pop all of the seeds and the garlic into a small pot and set it onto medium heat.
2) As the heat goes up, shake the pot from time to time to make sure the seeds toast evenly.
3) Once the seeds start to give off small popping noises and dance around in your pot, turn the heat down to medium-low and pour in the oil.
4) Have an eye on the oil – or a candy thermometer on the inside. As soon as fine bubbles start rising, making the seeds sizzle, take the pot off the heat and turn the heat even lower. If you’re using a thermometer, keep it below 50°C after that initial burst of heat.
5) Keep it at this temperature for 15-20 mins, then take the pot off the heat and let the oil cool off completely.
6) Line a small, fine sieve with a layer of muslin, a cheese cloth or an even finer tea sieve and place it on top of a funnel.
7) Use that contraption to filter out all of the seeds and bits while you’re moving the oil out of the pot into the bottle you’ve picked out for this purpose.
8) Tightly seal the bottle, and store it in a cool and dark place.
The Roasted Seed Oil is a wonderfully toasty finishing flourish for roasted meats, veggies and freshly baked bread! Due to the heat resistant base oil, you can use it to baste the goods in your pan for a couple of minutes or brush the aforementioned bread with it before popping it back into the oven for the last 3-4 mins.
The Rosemary-Tomato Olive Oil
250ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil – skip the “Extra Virgin” if you’re planning to use it for frying or roasting
3 Sprigs of Rosemary, thoroughly rinsed and dried with a paper towel
4 Sundried Tomatoes
2 Cloves of Garlic, thinly sliced
1) I’d like to stress the “thoroughly rinsed” at this point. There are certain types of bacteria clinging to fresh herbs sometimes, usually rather harmless, that just love an enclosed, oily environment to multiply into a health risk. Whenever you’re using fresh herbs for something like this, give it an extra round of the usual cleaning routine, just to be on the safe side.
2) Pop everything into a small pot and place a thermometer inside.
3) Set the pot onto medium-low heat, let the oil get up to 45-50°C, then reduce the heat to low.
4) Keep an eye on your thermometer and keep the oil at around 36-39°C for 20-25 mins.
5) Set the pot aside and leave the oil to cool off entirely.
6) Doll up a sterilized bottle with a sprig of rosemary, a dried tomato and a clove of garlic, fresh ones or the ones swimming in the oil already, and pour the oil into the bottle.
7) Seal the bottle and stash it away for convenient use.
This one’s my favorite finishing touch for anything you could slap a “Mediterranean” sticker on. In theory you could use it to fry or baste something sitting on medium temperatures – I use an insanely tasty oil, intense on the olive side, which looses a lot of its oomph in the heat, though, so I keep it out of direct heat.
The Ginger-Lemongrass Oil
250ml Peanut Oil
2 Stalks of Lemongrass, bashed
3 Keffir Lime Leaves
4 Slices of Ginger
Opt: small green Chillies, upper end scored with a sharp knife or needle
A word on the lime leaves first – if you’re living somewhere in the EU you will have a hard time finding fresh leaves. Evidently, these plants are a true delicacy in the world of termites, so EU regulations prohibit imports of the fresh stuff. You can, however, find them, conveniently cleaned and termite-free, in the frozen goods section of almost every asian grocery store.
1) Place the leaves, lemongrass, ginger and, if you’re going with them, the chillies in a small pot and set it onto medium-high heat.
2) Add the oil and bring the lot up to about 60°C – very small bubbles, almost champagne-like mini-pearl strings, shuld be rising to the surface.
3) Keep it at that point for 5 mins, then reduce the heat to low and leave the spices to do their best for 20 mins.
4) Take the pot off the heat and leave it to cool off completely.
5) Prepare a sterilized bottle with a fresh stalk of lemongrass and some leaves before filling the bottle up with your freshly infused oil.
6) Seal it tightly and keep it in a cool and dark place until it’s needed again.
My go-to for anything along the lines of southeast Asian, stirfrys, salads, and the like. Again, since I usually shy away from using a lot of oil for frying, I use it sparingly – spray the pan with it before firing it up or a few drops of it for a salad dressing. One ridiculously yummy combination: spray it on freshly fried lotus roots and sprinkle them with either a pinch of togarashi pepper or toasted sesame seeds. Make sure you have enough roots for seconds~!
That’s it, the general gist of the whole infused oil shabang – pick whatever you like to compliment whatever you might have in mind, heat it up a little to release the flavors and there you have it. Fuss-free, personalized and yummy gifts, fresh from the kitchen!