Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, you can make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.
Today: Gabriella makes fancy pantry booze that isn't moonshine.
Shop the Story
Infused alcohol doesn't have much of a middle ground. There's the lowbrow, fratty side of it all: gummy bears soaking in cheap gin, a sad watermelon plugged with a bottle of Rubinoff. On the other end of the spectrum is serious mixology, something I'll never be able to get behind -- I'm not about to pay $16 for a drink just to relive this Portlandia skit.
But Halloween is right around the corner, and it's one of America's finest drinking holidays (along with July 4th, St. Patrick's Day, New Year's Eve, the night before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, my birthday, my half birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Arbor Day). Now, you can certainly hollow out a pumpkin, empty out a bottle of whiskey in there, and call it a night. But by infusing affordable liquor with herbs, fruit, and spices, you'll end up with a quality final product that'll enhance your cocktails without blowing your budget.
A good starting point for infused booze is jalapeño tequila: The peppers are strong enough that you won't have to wait too long after preparing it to use. Simply add one sliced, de-seeded pepper for every cup of tequila and steep it in a sealed jar for up to 24 hours. When you're ready to use it, strain and serve it up in this traditional margarita recipe.
Apple-Infused Spiced Rum
You'll probably go apple picking at some point this fall. And while it's all fun and games when you're romping around upstate in plaid taking perfectly staged Instagram photos, you'll likely end up with too many apples on your hands. So core and peel them, plug them with cloves, then marinate them in spiced rum. Check out the full step-by-step tutorial on The Hairpin here.
Rosemary Simple Syrup
I love rosemary this time of year: It's earthy and fragrant, with a depth that perfectly accompanies the cutting crispness in the air. To make a batch of rosemary simple syrup, put 1 cup sugar and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan with a handful of rosemary sprigs. (You can also sub in any other sturdy herb, like thyme or sage.) Cook the mixture over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves, then remove it from the heat and let it sit for an hour before using. A Food52 summer favorite is this Watermelon Rosemary Lemonade, but while it's chilly, serve it up with biting blood orange. The syrup will keep up to a month in your fridge.
Black Tea Bourbon
Bourbon, neat, is my go-to drink -- so I was understandably apprehensive to mess with a classic. But the tea does add a touch of mellowness that works well for a revamped whiskey sour or a Manhattan. Proportionally, you can either go with one black tea bag to 8 ounces of bourbon, steeped for 12 to 15 hours; or 2 tablespoons of loose tea leaf to 8 ounces of bourbon, steeped for 8 hours.
Tell us: What are you favorite infused liquors to add to cocktails?