Easy and inexpensive steam distillation of essence

I have this strange dream of having an apothecary's shop in my kitchen, or so it would appear. I want to find the best way of distilling food down to its essence, then having it ready at a moment's notice to enhance a bit of food or drink. It's odd, really, because I don't use that many spices while I'm cooking right now, as I tend to try to focus on the base nature of the food rather than trying to gussy it up. Still, the dream persists, and I'll play with it as time goes on, and perhaps adjust my cooking style to the number of extracts, essences, oils, and powders that I can accumulate. In any case, Sean Michael Ragan has written a handy piece about using a standard bit of cooking equipment, the pot with integrated steam basket, plus a "schoolhouse" style lamp, to make your own simple steam distillation system. It really is an Alton Brown style conglomeration of simple parts for a very good purpose.

[2008-05-05] Improvised radial alembic for DIY steam distillation: "I would add that this is not my idea, originally, although I may have been the first to recognize the unique shape of the so-called 'schoolhouse' lamp globe as highly amenable for impromptu condenser service, since it comes with a readymade 'drip tip' where condensate can accumulate. My version […] requires a stainless steel pot with an integral strainer (constructed such that there is some distance between the pot bottom and the strainer bottom when the strainer is in place), a 'schoolhouse' style glass lamp globe which is of greater diameter than the pot, and a stainless steel or glass receiving vessel."

(Via Make.)

Garden of '06

As spring approached, I felt it was necessary to turn my deck into a garden. Why? Well, partially because fresh fruit and herbs are super-tasty, and partially because my yard is far too filled with evil, herbivorous critters that want nothing better than to eat all my tasty fruits. My Rosemary Rosemary. The tastiest evergreen shrub I'm acquainted with. Deer hate rosemary, which is just another symptom of their evil. Beware the deer! Rosemary is a secret agent in making yeast breads rise more easily, and is fun to throw on the grill to smoke meat. Lavender Lavender. Very fragrant, and a key component to Herbes de Provence. However, I have yet to actually use the lavender in any of my cooking. Smells very nice. Do not attempt to smoke this on the grill like the rosemary. Burnt lavender is nasty. I mean that. Genovese Basil Gahhhhh. I mean, Genovese Basil. Life would be a little bit dimmer if there were no such thing as genovese basil. A key component in the most common form of pesto, genovese basil is excellent in salads as well. Actually, there are very few herbs of the right consistency that are bad in salads. Not rosemary. Rosemary is bad in salads. Sticks in the teeth, like spiky gum missiles of doom. No, wait: like Spicy Gum Missiles of DOOOOM. Cilantro Cilantro. This is my fianc~A(c)e Melanie's cilantro. It's not that I dislike cilantro, though it's not my favorite herb. It's just that she had this plant for years, and it tends to re-seed itself every year. It's an annual plant, not a perennial, but it's keen to keep it going. Cinnamon Basil Cinnamon Basil. Not as tasty as genovese basil, but tasty nevertheless. Especially good in Vietnamese-style foods. Probably not as good in a pesto, and doesn't keep the deer away. Come to think of it, squirrels like to roll around in the dirt of the cinnamon basil. That's just weird. What is it with squirrels, anyways? Rhubarb Ahhh, Rhubarb. We can't use this rhubarb yet. I've heard that the first year of rhubarb should not be eaten, so we'll wait until next year. But then...the pie will be mine! Oregano Oregano. Again, great in salads. I'd like to use my DIY gum kit to make oregano gum, but apparently one has to juice the oregano quite well for that, and I don't think my citrus reamer is up to the task. Spearmint Spearmint. We mainly use this for tea and lamb. Not lamb tea. That would be gross. Why would you even think that? Lamb tea. You're kinda weird, you know. Thyme Thyme. This grows like crazy, so we use it in everything. It's very sweet, and tasty as can be. The problem is that the leaves are kind of hard to pull of the stem. You have to grip it at the top of the stem and pull down to pull the leaves off. The trick is that the top of the thyme stem is weak, and waits in treachery to break off before you can pull the leaves off. It may be in line with the deer. Parsley Parsley. Useful in any number of dishes, especially the Italian dishes. Sage Sage. The wisest of herbs. Not really true, of course. Sage is actually just clever at marketing, in order to get the plum job as Advisor to the King. Very few kings hire herbs for advice, and modern bureaucracies have made flora-based wisdom transfer redundant. Still, well worth eating. Inverted Tomato Planter Inverted Tomato Planter. Okay, technically not a plant. My whole parallel structure has been broken with this item, but it's the end of the list, and I kind of messed it up with the Genovese basil in any case. Right. So this planter contains four tomato plants, three kinds of chiles, and another sage plant. What? Well, we had signed a contract already, so I figured I might as well keep it around. Maybe it would say something wise from time to time. But be warned: don't sign the contract without a good exit clause. They can't really speak, so their advice is very, very cryptic.