Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Tropical Infusion

Does anyone else hate store bought infused vodka? I've tried just about every brand but they all wind up tasting artificial. And I mean cleaning agent mixed with KoolAid kind of artificial. In my quest to have a tropical infused vodka for the pending Costa Rica get together, I decided to experiment with making them myself.

Here's what I've learned so far in a few pioneering efforts.

First, for tropical flavor I thought pineapple and papaya. Yum, that sounds good! I ran the idea by the Indian Culinary Academy (aka, the ladies that I work with) and they suggested maybe mixing in a bit of basil, cilantro or mint. Ooooh, that sounds even better! Hmmm, with all those ingredients I have 5 factorial combinations. Better trim it down. Pineapple, papaya and cilantro. Yes, thats it!

Click, basic research on the web for technique. Zip, over to Fiesta for fruits and herbs. Bing, over to Specs for vodka. Ohh, the vodka ailse is next to the scotch ailse and I've recently become curious about scotch so I diverted. But the resident Scotch Guy decided to give me a disseration on the many merits of oak casking before sherry casking and which exactly was the best of the infinite number of regions in Scotland for scotch production. I finally termed the monologue by telling Scotch Guy that I was a scotch neophyte and that at this point in my education, all scotch tasted like someone had put out a cigar in a cup of whiskey.

But I digress.

Zoom, over to Sur La Table to pick up some glass infusion containers for the experiments. It is always surprising when there is something kitchen related that I don't already have. Funny how often I'm surprised.

Really, there isnt much to making an infusion. Cut up the fruit. Wash, dry and crush the herbs lightly, then mix them in a container with vodka. Close and set in a dark cool place for a week. Drain through a fine mesh strainer. Then again through a coffee filter. Presto, infusion!

Tropical Vodka Infusions

Since the infusions matured today, lets go over the results.

Pineapple Cilantro
[1C pineapple, 1C vodka, 1/4C loosely packed cilantro - 7 days infusion time]

Wow, great flavor! The cilantro is a little strong but I bet it will mix well with a little pineapple juice and ice. Keeper, maybe cut back a little on the cilantro.

[1C pineapple, 1C vodka - 7 days infusion time]

Sit down before trying, whoa, intensely flavored and sweet! This could be good mixed with orange or lime. Keeper.

[1C papaya, 1C vodka - 7 days infusion time]

Gross. First of all, there is something in papaya, post cutting, that has the consistency of school paste. The infusion wasnt just thick, it was clumpy. I managed to strain off a little bit of liquid. Good flavor but the consistency was gagg-o-licious. Pass.

Papaya Cilantro
[1C papaya, 1C vodka, 1/4C cilantro - 7 days infusion time]

Gross, for the same reason. Pass.

Pineapple Papaya
[1C pineapple, 1/2C papaya, 1C vodka - 7 days infusion time]

Good, but still suffers a bit from the papaya clumping syndrome. I think cutting the amount of papaya in half might make this one a keeper.

Pineapple Papaya Cilantro
[1C pineapple, 1/2C papaya, 1C vodka, 1/4C cilantro - 7 days infusion time]

Also good flavors but again it suffers from papaya clumping syndrome. I think the cilantro overpowers the softer papaya flavor in this case, so I would probably cut its amount in half.

I am trying one more - Pineapple Mint but you will have to wait with me for a week before the results can be announced.

One more thing I learned. You can, in fact, buy super cheap vodka and filter it through a Brita filter (like 7 times) to produce very nice tasting vodka on the order of Skyy or Titos. This is not without some cost, the filter, which has to be thrown out afterwards. Not to mention the time it will take. But if volume is your MO, then it might work for you!

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Spending my teens and 20's in San Francisco spoiled me in many ways. For example, I grew up thinking that everyone made Chinese food exactly the way it was made in Chinatown. Leaving San Francisco was a reality jolt in that respect. Since then I have not had good Chinese food anywhere, save a few weekend getaways to NYC.

When I spotted this Chinese restaurant on a walk up Montrose, I did not initially warm to the idea of eating there. I think it was post traumatic stress disorder from one too many Chinese meals in Dallas that were too oily, too salty and in short -- just bad. But I found myself weeks later reading about that very restaurant in a Houston foodie rag. Stellar reviews. Best Chinese for 10 years running. The Chinese co-workers raved. I felt pressured, they must know something I don't, so I tried it.

It must be the year of the its-about-damn-time. Finally, after years of choking down dull-witted, Pei Wei-esque interpretations of Chinese dishes, I am happy to report that I've found not just good, but excellent Chinese food. In Houston, its called Kam's.

Mommie Coolest Approved Dining

Litmus tests of Mongolian Beef and General Tso's Chicken were excellent, flavorful without the mediocre-chef technique of over oiling and over soysaucing. But the real gems here are the Shrimp and Scallops in Basil Sauce and a rouge vietnamese staple, Bo Luc Lac, which is a savory-sweet beef fillet, cubed and grilled, served with salt, pepper and lime.

Kam's is relatively small so its best to go off peak, say at 1115am or 130p for lunch or anytime after 830p for dinner. Parking is scant and wildly difficult to navigate, so you are better off parking on the side streets east of Montrose and crossing over.

4500 Montrose Boulevard
Houston, TX 77006-5842

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Monday, February 01, 2010


Arenal was the last area of Costa Rica that I visited before returning to San Jose. This area continues my fascination with volcanoes. I stayed at a place that is about as close as you can get to the volcano without hiking gear and overnight supplies. The problem with the volcanoes, in general, is that they are generally covered in clouds. Arenal was no exception.

Sunny and Rainy Volcano, Arenal, Costa Rica

Arenal is definitely beautiful. And its a place where you can be completely isolated, if thats what you want. There are the same adventure sports here that exist in Manuel Antonio but the operations are smaller and it will require more elaborate transportation to get there. Outside of hiking the jungle, the unique activites here are touring the hanging bridges and mineral baths.

The Hanging Bridges are a wonderful way to spend 3-4 hours. The bridges vary in height and spanse from a few feet to a several hundred feet. The plant life here is extraordinary to see, if you dont rush through, which is what most people were doing. This is not a hard trek but dont look down when youre on the bridges if you are afraid of heights. The are open weave grates; you can see straight down :)

Hanging Bridges, Arenal, Costa Rica

On my last day I found a surprise in my shower. This little guy looked totally disoriented by the tile, soap and the fact that I seemed to like hot water falling on me (he clearly did not). I finally managed to coax him into a laudry bag then released him on the porch. He stayed on this plant for hours before venturing back into the jungle.

Thats about all for Costa Rica. I totally loved my time there and look forward to going back some day. I still need to see the OSA peninsula (the most biodiverse area on the planet), Limon (the Afro-Caribe side) and MonteVerde (the cloud forest). But all in good time.

Next trip, Argentina! Or maybe Germany. Turkey? Who knows :)

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