Another one from Umrats. We've since wandered off into dessert vodkas – Turkish Delight, Mint Matchmakers, jelly babies … My favourite is still dill and garlic, though.
We use Kilner-type jars, which makes it easier to drain the vodka off the flavourings if it is getting too strong. Jars with metal lids don't work, as the metal gets eaten away.
For the Thai one, we used a large jar, and added a knob of ginger about as big as the ball of your thumb, sliced up, two stems of lemon grass, crushed, the shredded peel of one lime, two roughly chopped chillies, seeds and all. We did say that next time we would add some basil and maybe a little honey, and if you're not partial to chilli you could reduce it to one and/or leave the seeds out. That took about two-thirds of a bottle of vodka. Cheap is fine, in fact it would be a waste of the good stuff. Something from your local backstreet offy or off the back of a Ford transit is good, provided the alcohol count is high.
Stick booze in with flavourings, seal and put in the dark and cool for about a week, shaking every day. If it seems to have picked up enough flavour, you can decant it and label it, or leave it for longer if you like. If you're in a hurry, you can mix it all straight in the bottle and keep in the freezer, which speeds it all up by breaking down the cellular structure of the organic material in the flavourings, and takes about 24 hours rather than the full week.
If you've used sweet or fruit flavours (berries, melon, etc.) you can keep the fruits after they've marinaded and use them for filling gateaux, roulades, or as ice-cream toppings.
The Russian way to drink it is with zakuski, which is their idea of starters. Every other New Year we have a Russian evening, with a great variety of vodkas, and lots of little foods – last year's draft menu was:
* Whole cold salmon with orange hollandaise
* Whole Ham baked with seed and mustard crust
* Hot chicken/turkey Satsivi (mild walnut korma)
* Hot meatballs in plum and cinnamon sauce
* Hot meatballs in sour cream and paprika sauce
* Hot meatballs in dill pesto
* Mushroom pirogi (little pies)
* Cabbage pirogi with caraway seed crust
* Onion and egg pirogi
* Cheese pirogi
Salads including beetroot in sour cream, beetroot with walnut, cucumbers, mushrooms, celery, radishes, egg, potato, green salad.
Pates including Mushroom and Bulgar (cracked wheat), *Chicken Liver, Celebration Cheese Pate.
Smoked Fish including *Smoked Mussels, *Smoked Oysters, Smoked Salmon.
Variety of marinated herrings.
Breads and biscuits including pumpernickel, rye bread, cheese straws, plain bread.
Pickles & Sauces including *Mushrooms, *Pickled Pears, *Sweet Spiced Prunes, Dill Pickles, Mustard and Dill Sauce, Cranberry Sauce.
There is no main course.
*Individual Rum Babas
*Double Chocolate Rasberry Truffle Cake
*Mazurek (Polish Christmas Glace Fruit Bars)
*Cold Rice Pudding with Hot Cherry Sauce
*Stem Ginger Trifle
Non-alcholic trifle for kids
Flavoured vodkas we have on the go are:
Lemon and lime
and there will be some sweet gloopy vodka-based liqueurs as well.
(end of menu)
The vodka is stored in bottles in the freezer, so it is served ice-cold and accumulates a coating of solid ice as the condensation on the outside of the bottle refreezes.
The eldest person at the table starts by making a toast, and then the toasts go around the table. For each toast you pick a mouthful-sized bit of food, and an appropriately flavoured vodka. (This is where the dill and garlic vodka comes in, it is fantastic with smoked salmon.) To make sure the flavours meld properly, you:
1) breathe in
2) knock back the vodka in one
3) pop the food in your mouth
4) breathe out slowly through your nose
5) chew and swallow
6) start again
The flavoured fumes pass over the taste sensors in your nose and mix with the food. Pick the wrong choice and you're in big trouble … toffee and chocolate vodka does not go with cabbage in sour cream sauce, trust me on this one!
Some of the sweet ones are excellent: we mixed a melon vodka with green ginger wine, or made more "artificial" ones using industrial food flavourings supplied by a friendly chemist. There's a Delia recipe for glace / crystallised fruit soaked in Madeira, which works on the same principle, but where the fruit is the main end result, not the liquid.
If you want to add to the finished product, you can add honey or a sugar syrup for sweetness, glycerine for a more solid, gloopy, liqueur-type texture. If it is fake liqueurs you're after, try the flavour concentrate they sell next to the coffee in good supermarkets, or in independent coffee shops – in America you used to be able to get concentrates that told you in Very Broad Hints what they were mimicking, with instructions about which base booze to add them to.
Experimentation is the key to fun!