Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lemony Snippet {homemade limoncello}

I was alone this morning...Mike is out practicing archery and I have the whole house to myself.
I was going to spend the day in my pajamas catching up on lost episodes of the Barefoot Contessa, whom I love. I mean it. Not the romantic kind of love, but the kind where you say to yourself...I don't care if she makes liver and onions, I would eat them because she has such good taste that I must be wrong about how utterly disgusting it seems.

But alas, I didn't wear pajamas last night (poor planning), and walking around the house in a long t-shirt seems somehow wrong and slightly unsanitary. Especially since most of our windows are picture, and face the common courtyard of our condo complex. I want to be a good neighbor.

So instead, I decided to tool around the kitchen (fully clothed mind you). I figured it was time for the next step of my beverage project. Now before you go rounding up a sponsor for me...this beverage project does not mean, sampling every one of the 30 or so bottles I keep in the cabinet. Which, by the way, are used mostly in my cooking and baking.
Except the Kahlua.

While Mike and I were honeymooning in Zihuatanejo, we dined almost every night at the same small restaurant on the beach. It is called Elvira. As in many of the beach restaurants, there was a small patio off what looked to be the proprietor's house, where the bar was staged as well as the essentials for a restaurant of its size. Where the magic was, was in the alfresco dining. Tables were pulled out each evening onto the beach. Always close enough to the sea that water would roll in and capture our attention, but not close enough to soak our shoes. Candles and fairy lights lit the tables, and the moon lit the rest. So romantic, so beautiful and so perfect.

Our waiter, nehum, made suggestions every night as to what we should eat. We followed his suggestion and ate the most wonderful and simply prepared fish. It's amazing what a bit of olive oil and lemon can do. Ahhh...the memory of it makes my mouth water.

Nehum became our pusher.

Each evening, as Mike and I would sit, bellies full, listening to the ocean and the sounds of mariachis strolling down the beach, Nehum would bring us an after dinner drink. Always the same, always delicious, always satisfying...Kahlua and cream. There is nothing like it. So now, when Mike and I want to transport ourselves back to our evenings on the beach in Zihua, we sip, okay drink, okay, okay, down K and C's. That bottle isn't for cooking, it is purely an elixir for our souls.

But that's not my beverage project, that's just a side-bar. Actually my beverage project has been going on for quite some time now. I am making homemade Limoncello. It's an Italian aperitivo, that is most popular on the Island of Capri...but can be found all over Itlay, and now the US as well. It is a delicious lemon liqueur, and has so many uses beyond drinking. Although making this takes passive time, it's really easy...and makes wonderful Christmas gifts. You still have time, if you start now.

You need lots of lemons, but just the peels. Don't want to be wasteful? Here's some ideas for the rest of the lemon. Cut in half, pour some salt on it and tame your elbows (Barbra Streisand does it and so should we). Juice the lemons and make the sugar syrup in advance (but keep it in the freezer, so it doesn't get weird). Make lemon curd...better yet, make lemon chicken...ooh what about lemon bars? Those ae my fave.

Back to the recipe. Wash and dry about 10-15 lemons. the lemons should be unwaxed. Remove the peels. Now, this is very do not want the pith. That is the white stuff that hugs the peel like a preschooler hugs his mom on the first day of school. Remove it only want the yellow part. The pith is bitter and is not good for your end result. Place all the peels in a large glass or ceramic jar with a tight fitting lid. Pour 1 bottle of vodka over it. You do not need expensive vodka for this, you want the alcohol content, but the theory is that you will be changing the flavor of it, so don't break the bank on this one.
Put the top on the jar, date it, and put it away in a cool dark place for a minimum of 2 weeks but as long as 3 or 4 months. Mine has been steeping since September 2nd. When you see that all of the lemon peels have lost their color and/or it's been 2 weeks you can move onto the next step. In a heavy saucepan place 3 cups of water, 1/2 cup of strained lemon juice, 3 cups sugar and 3 Tbs honey. Boil over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is clear. Don't let it go too long and get thick and gooey. Let cool.

Pour the syrup into your glass jar with the lemon peels and vodka. Cover and let steep for another week (or longer if you have the time). When you are ready to bottle your limoncello, strand the liquid using cheese cloth or fine sieve. Squeeze all that you can from the peels and then throw away. Bottle the liquid in clean jars and seal tightly.

Like revenge, this is best served it in the freezer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is It Time Yet?

As the temperatures begin to dip into the very holiday level of 85 degrees, it makes me long for my snowflake t-shirts and winter sandals. It's getting to the point where I find myself feigning and Australian accent and pretending its Christmas Down-Under. Hot holidays are a rip off. I'm not asking for snow...well maybe I am, but that's just ridiculous. I'm asking for maybe a windbreaker holiday, or maybe even being able to say, bring a sweater, you may get chilly, without it seeming cheeky.

I'm not going to embrace it.
Its bad enough that I succumbed to the earth friendly fake tree. If you hear me saying how great it is, and how much I love's all part of the self-brainwash. Yes, it is good for the environment. Yes it is cost effective...but that's about where I have to end the list. The rest of the benefits just don't apply to me. I don't have cats.

So how many days are there until Christmas anyway? I see the advertisers have been market-conscious and haven't flooded us with the up to the minute T-minus data. But I did catch a "news anchor" making recommendations on how to save money on stuffing, cranberry sauce and what-not. I wonder if this current crisis will force the cancellation of "where in the world is Matt Lauer". Not that I want the market to remain poor, but it spares us the travel trevails of the the NBC morning crew---but I digress. I can appreciate the countdown...but again, it doesn't apply to me. And not because of the cat thing, but because the one thing I have always been good at, is planning for Christmas.

I shop all year for Christmas. It's the most organized area of my life. Open a closet and you run the risk of, the classic and always funny, being bombarded by its' contents. I could spend all day looking for one of 10 pairs of scissors stashed around the house. Clickers, keys, clothes all a jumble in my mind. But Christmas...perfectly assembled from the list to the budget to the wrapped gifts under the tree.

What's my secret?
There is no secret. I have a staff. Nah, just kidding.
My secret is that I pick up lots of crap at a discount, wrap it up to make it look expensive and then pass it off to my unsuspecting friends and family, as gifts picked just for them.
Again, kidding.
It gets done because it's on my radar. Just like good grooming and hygiene, a tidy abode, adequate car care, regular doctor visits or rodent traps may be on your radar.
It is a priority for me because I have wonderful memories associated with this time of year and I evoke them each time I pick up a gift, or prepare for the holidays.

It reminds me of singing "my favorite things" in the 4th grade chior...before my voice broke. When it was just a whisper in a sea of whispers, and no one could tell who the off-key crooner was.

It reminds me of staying up late nights and preparing cookies for the family party and lining the shelves of the service porch with boxes and boxed of sweet treats.

It reminds me of my dad "flocking" the house because it was his year to pick the tree and he wanted a white Christmas. Flock was a popular word in our house during the holidays. It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood that flock is a noun and not a verb.

But most of all it reminds me of candy. Candy, candy everywhere. Slap lots of it onto gingerbread slab and invite Hansel and Gretel over. Use peppermint disks to make a wonderful and fragrant wreath. Assemble gumball trees for a colorful and playful centerpiece. Have too many candy canes? Make them into stars and use them as a fun gift tag. I could go on, but how would Meredith hold our attention for the next 30 days? I have designed the ultimate candy accessory for the holidays. The Gumdrop Sconce. What will I think of next? Perhaps a tiny chocolate tree house for the parade of ants?

You can count the hours, count the days, count the minutes...but whatever it is...make them count.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chi Fan

Chi fan...I think that has something to do with eating. I need to ask my 3 year old niece. Last time I tried to speak Chinese to her, she corrected me. Apparently thinking I said, "thank you", I really said, I need to go to the bathroom. I was close. You know it's tough when a 3 year old has a better command of a language, any language than you.

You see....I used to pride myself for my ear of languages. That was when knowing how to pronounce tortilla in the heart of Spokane, Washington made me bi-lingual. Growing up in California, you learn actually get to speak some, and if you have a car, a sarape and enough pocket change, you can try your hand at bartering in the language. So, my knowledge of Spanish is passable. But my accent...well that's about as authentic as you can get. Like anything, it's all in the presentation.

My Italian...legitimately good. And I am extraordinary at fishing for compliments with it. I start out with a little, ho dimenticato tutti (I forgot everything)...which cues the lovely Italians to say...oh no, no, I wish my English was as good as your Italian....which cues me to say...oh would you like to speak English then? So you can practice? Which naturally moves me into the expert category and no one is the wiser.

Where I become the laughing stock is my French. Remember the part where I said I have an ear for languages? Well, word to the wise...don't say stuff like that. Because, friends are always at the ready to disprove the theory, and then remind you of it whenever ANY foreign word comes out of your mouth.
I was in Paris with my "friends" and we went to a perfectly wonderful cafe. Actually a place I love and have been to many times. I'd like to think we discovered it many moons ago, and now it is someplace the cogniscenti frequent. It's called Cafe Marly and it sits at the entrance to the Louvre. So...we were there, my "friends" and I. Everyone ordered a croque monsier...which they prounounced Croak Mons Sure (insert your best bad American-French accent here). So I, with my incredible ear for languages, placed my order for crudite...(insert your best gutteral phlegm inducing expulsion here). It sounded great, and I looked great with the wave of my hand and the tipping of my beret topped head. Very French, very French indeed.

All was going well, until the watier delivered my perfectly toasted sandwich...same thing everybody else got. I tried to tell him that it wasn't what I ordered, but he just waved me off, and tipped his beret topped head. Apparently my French ain't so good. Which brings me back to Chinese.

My husband and I are learning it because Michael Phelps said it would be a good idea. Okay, that's not true, but I understand he does think it's a good idea. We are learning it because we are going to China next spring and thought it would be nice if we could speak, understand or smile a little bit of it. We are using the Rosetta Stone, because Michael Phelps said it would be a good idea. Okay, I'll stop with that joke, I imagine I am the only one who thinks it's funny...or even know what it means.

Let me tell ya...Mandarin is hard...really hard. I'm not so confident in my presentation...and for some reason, I think random hand gestures might actually be offensive in China. What plays in Paris doesn't necessarily play in Peking.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Impromptu Dinner Party

Last night my husband and I hosted an impromptu dinner party. I had been planning a roasted chicken dinner as a test run for our Thanksgiving turkey. I figured it would be a good foil for the roasted potatoes and stuffing I am planning to make. Yes, I know....2 starches...but what's a girl to do? So, sue me...I didn't serve bread. I rounded it out with a sensible green salad and sauteed broccoli. Oh...and my husband's favorite--cranberry fluff. I started preparing, I realized that I was making a lot of food for just the 2 of us. So I invited our neighbor who was bachin' it for the night. Once I invited an outside guest, the tables were turned. I had to have a dessert. My husband and I don't normally have dessert with dinner. It's a special occasion thing. Maybe because we eat stuffing and potatoes at the same sitting...maybe because we don't need it...maybe because life isn't fair. But, an outsider was entering our midst, and I had to have something.

I'm a trained pastry chef so you'd think this wouldn't be an issue with me. But it was. I didn't have a lot of time, I needed to clean my latest craft project off the dining room table, tidy the dining room from my general lack of attention to tidiness, clean the silver, dust off the crystal....
Did I mention that I wanted to use our wedding china, silver and crystal? I figured it was time...oh...and I broke out the Christmas china...maybe a bit early for that...but if I was cleaning, I was pulling all the stops.

Back to dessert.
I went with what I had on hand and it turned out great. I thought I would pass it on to you.
I buttered some ramekins...the big ones, about 8 ounces each...I then peeled and sliced about 1 1/2 apples per person, into a bowl. I used a combination of granny smith and fuji. Use a majority of granny smith...if you are mixing. You need to use a good baking apple for this. I sliced the apples pretty thin, probaby 1/8 of an inch thick. I then sprinkled some granulated sugar...use your judgement, just to lightly dust. I then added a dusting of cinnamon, more or less depending on if you love cinnamon...and about a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Tossed it all together and crammed it into the ramekins. And when I say cram, I mean it. They cook and shrink and you need to pack them in. For the topping, I took about 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, a pinch of salt a small handful of toasted slivered almonds and mixed together. I then mixed in, by hand, about 1/2 stick of room temperature butter. The mixture was soft and gooey and I placed a dollop on top of each ramekin. I had a bit of granola on hand, so I sprinkled a bit on each one for a little crunch factor. When we sat down to dinner I placed them in a 400 degree oven and let them bake until they were nice and bubbly...about 30 minutes.

After pulling from the oven I let them sit until the proper dessert wine was poured (hey it was a party!). I topped them with vanilla ice cream and waited for the applause...still waiting...
Really, they were wonderful and so easy and a great last minute dessert. They maybe took 15 minutes to prepare and then they sat in the fridge until heading to the oven.

Dinner parties are fun. Sitting at a beautifully laid table is my favorite part. Cleaning up afterward is not.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fudge Ripple

Welcome to Fudge Ripple. Those of you whom are old enough to remember life before an ATM, or as we used to call it, "the money machine", may remember fudge ripple ice cream. Every major dairy had their own version. It was my mom's favorite and mine too. It was a special treat, although a carton always sat in the the freezer waiting for it's discovery. Even when freezer burned, the ripple was gooey and sweet. I miss it...and so it shall live on in my blog.

I am a victim of my senses...I will walk around a linen store and touch everything, as the feel of it is just as important as the look. I will wander into a seemingly abandoned building because I think I smell fresh yeast used to bake bread. I will order 5 side dishes in a restaurant because they are tastier than a main course. I love to cook, to bake, to sew, to create and to entertain. I hope to use this forum to share with you the fun stuff, and also the mistakes I make. I would love to hear what you have to say too...well only if it's nice...okay let's say, only if it's constructive.

So, here's to the fudge ripple path, care to join me?


Related Posts with Thumbnails

blogger templates |