In my opinion, vodka gets a lot of undeserved flak. It seems like most people have a bad experience in college with a plastic bottle of vodka and never go back. I can't blame them; it took me a few years after graduating college to start to enjoy vodka again—but now I adore it.
That said, I understand why people don't like vodka, especially the cheap stuff. Wouldn't it be nice if you could take that handle of bottom-shelf vodka and turn it into something nice? Well, you can!
To make the extract, put a few sticks or beans into the jar. If you're making vanilla extract, be sure to split the beans in half to extract the maximum amount of flavor. Add about a cup of vodka to the jar, making sure that it covers all of the vanilla beans or cinnamon sticks.
Then seal the lid tight, shake it up, and let it sit. Shake it every few days for two months, then strain out the vanilla beans or cinnamon sticks (I highly recommend putting the date on the jar, so you know when the two months are up). Just like that you'll have an extract to rival any you'd find in a store, and also a brilliant holiday gift. You can also use brandy, if you're trying to get rid of any.
Cheap gin is better than cheap vodka. There are enough flavors in gin that it will always taste decent, especially with a healthy dose of tonic water and a big squeeze of lime. So if you don't like the vodka on your shelf, just turn it into gin!
To turn vodka into gin, you simply need to infuse some gin flavors into a bottle of vodka. Juniper is the predominant flavor in gin, with cardamom, lavender, and bay all being common flavors as well (along with more subtle flavors such as lemongrass, rosemary, and fennel). Take whichever of these ingredients you're fond of, put them in an empty tea bag or a piece of cheesecloth, and add it to a jar of vodka. In a few days, you'll have your own gin, and it will taste ten times better than the vodka you started with.
It's nice to be able to get some smoky flavor without having to fire up the grill. Liquid smoke is a great way to infuse your food with instant smoke (bacon is especially great), and you can make it with vodka, vegetable oil, and smoked salt.
Add ½ cup of oil, 2 tablespoons of smoked salt, and 1 teaspoon of vodka to a pot, and bring it to a simmer for 4 minutes. The alcohol in the vodka will draw out the flavor compounds in the salt, which will in turn infuse the oil. After the oil has cooked, remove it from the heat, let it steep for an hour, and then strain it. Keep it on the shelf and add it to meats or sauces anytime you want that good grilling flavor.
So if you ever find yourself dreading what's left in your vodka bottle, just repurpose it with one of these hacks and you'll have a much better product than you started with. (You could also use it to make a better-tasting pie crust!) Of course, I won't judge if you just decide to drink it!
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