Tippling while eating: Alcohol-infused food

Alcohol is great and food is great, but sometimes you just don’t want to go to all the hassle of preparing drinks and then making a meal.

That’s when it’s time for alcohol-infused food.

Preparing food with alcohol in it, or all around it, doesn’t just save time and effort and the nuisance of cleaning up. It also tastes good, sometimes.

I say “sometimes,” because there is one potential problem to preparing food with alcohol: It can have that harsh alcohol burn, if you do it wrong.

I prepared five dishes that do it right. They either cook off the harshness or mitigate it by overwhelming the alcohol with other, strong flavors.

Take, for example, what I call PB&B — peanut butter and bourbon. The caramel, vanilla and maple undertones of bourbon are a perfect complement to peanut butter, and the powerful flavor of peanut butter easily masks the harsh bourbon burn.

It helps that I only used a little bourbon, too. Just enough to enhance the flavor of the peanut butter, but not enough to compete with it.

If you wanted, you could just stir a few tablespoons of bourbon into a jar of peanut butter and be done with it, but where would the fun be with that? I made my own peanut butter — it only takes a minute or two if you begin with a jar of roasted peanuts — which made the spread much more satisfying.

I also swiped a couple of brilliant ideas from Cody Goldstein, who runs a cocktail and bar consulting firm called Muddling Memories. Goldstein sweetens his homemade peanut butter, and gets it ready for the bourbon, by adding raisins and brown sugar.

The brown sugar sweetens it of course, but not too sharply, and the raisins (which get mashed up with the peanut butter) add a surprising depth, roundness and complexity. PB&B is better than the sum of its parts.

I was looking for something a little more substantial, so I next made a couple of entrées.

The first was a riff off one of my go-to meals, seared chicken braised in wine. Every once in a while, I braise the chicken in beer, and while the results have been fine they have been nothing to write home about.

But then I had an idea, and now I’m writing home, as it were. Instead of using any ordinary beer, I decided to go with a wheat beer that has an undertone of orange — I used Blue Moon, though Shock Top would work as well. And then I added the juice from one freshly squeezed orange.

The idea was to play with the natural pairing of chicken and orange, while working in some of the tempered tang of beer. A crushed clove of garlic and a sprig of rosemary was all I needed more to make a richly flavorful braising liquid that doubled as an excellent sauce. This dish is definitely going to go into my standard rotation.

I won’t be making bourbon-marinated steak as frequently, but I might pull it out on special occasions.

You can probably figure out the genesis behind this dish: Bourbon is a classic accompaniment to steak, so why not skip the middleman and marinate the meat in the whiskey? To soften the harsh bourbon burn, especially because I was using a relatively inexpensive brand, I stirred in some brown sugar and added salt.

Not only did the marinade beef up the taste of the steak, it also made an already tender cut of meat more tender. And it was not just tender, it was bourbon tender, which ought to be a thing.

Once I’d gotten the heavy food out of the way, it was time for something lighter. It was time for a spiked watermelon, the star of picnics everywhere.

Spiking a watermelon is easy, in theory. Just cut a hole in top of a watermelon, and pour vodka into it. The melon will soak up the vodka like a sponge.

Except it doesn’t. Watermelons are vodka-resistant, or at least the one I used was. Getting the booze into the fruit was a long, slow process. The only advice I can give you is to cut several holes in the top of the watermelon instead of just one, and pour the vodka in each. And be sure to use a funnel.

Finally, I soaked gummy bears in vodka. Yes I did, and I’m not proud. I’m guessing they are a big hit in fraternity houses, but I was not in a fraternity. So I made them.

Here’s what you do: You take a bunch of gummy bears and soak them in vodka for 20 to 24 hours.

As the bears absorb the vodka, they swell up in size and become vaguely mutant bears. They also become a bit slimy and a little sticky.

Frankly, they are kind of gross, with an intense flavor and an unpleasant texture. And I keep going back to the bowl again and again.

Peanut Butter and Bourbon (PB&B)

Yield: 8 servings

2 cups roasted salted peanuts

1 tablespoon raisins

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 to 3 teaspoons peanut oil, as needed

2 to 3 tablespoons bourbon

Note: If you want, you could simply stir 2 to 3 tablespoons of bourbon into 1 cup of prepared peanut butter.

In a food processor, grind together peanuts, raisins and brown sugar until it forms a paste. Add peanut oil, if needed, to make it as smooth as you like. Add bourbon and process until thoroughly combined. Keep refrigerated.

Per serving: 247 calories; 20 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 10 g protein; 8 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 143 mg sodium; 24 mg calcium

Adapted from an idea by Cody Goldstein in Eat This, Not That!, eatthis.com

Orange-Beer Chicken

Yield: 2 servings

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Salt and black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Juice from 1 orange

1/2 cup orange-peel-infused beer, such as Blue Moon or Shock Top

1 garlic clove, crushed

Pinch crushed red pepper

1 sprig fresh rosemary or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/2 tablespoon butter, optional

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when hot, brown chicken on both sides. Add orange juice, beer, garlic clove, red pepper and rosemary, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the ban.

2. Lower heat, cover and cook at a simmer until chicken is thoroughly cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes. If desired, remove chicken to a platter, add butter to sauce in pan and swirl pan until butter is completely incorporated. Serve sauce over chicken.

Per serving: 305 calories; 14 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 92 mg cholesterol; 32 g protein; 9 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 178 mg sodium; 43 mg calcium

Bourbon-Marinated Steak

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

1/2 cup bourbon

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 pinch crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon salt

2 (8-ounce) steaks

1. In a small bowl, combine bourbon, sugar, pepper and salt. Place steaks in a baking dish and pour mixture over them. Flip to make sure both sides are coated. Marinate at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking, flipping the steaks periodically to keep both sides coated.

2. Remove steaks from marinade and cook on a grill or stove top to desired level of doneness. Allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.

Per serving: 277 calories; 10 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 74 mg cholesterol; 24 g protein; 5 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; no fiber; 631 mg sodium; 22 mg calcium. Nutrition analysis calculated for 4 servings.

Spiked Watermelon

Yield: About 22 servings

1 smallish (15 pounds) watermelon

1/2 (750 ml) bottle vodka, about 11/2 cups

If the watermelon tends to roll, cut a small slice off the bottom. Cut a hole (or several holes, to save time) in the top; an apple corer works well for this. Use a funnel to pour vodka into the hole or holes — be careful, only a little will go in at a time. Keep topping off the holes as the vodka is absorbed; this process may take several hours. Serve cold.

Per serving: 97 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 g protein; 16 g carbohydrate; 13 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 2 mg sodium; 14 mg calcium

Drunken Gummy Bears

Yield: 6 servings

1 (4 1/2-ounce) bag gummy bears, about 3/4 cup

3/4 cup vodka

Place gummy bears in a bowl and cover with vodka. Leave at room temperature for about 20 hours. Drain (you can serve the remaining flavored vodka as a gummy-flavored drink).

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