My Five Favorite Eats in 2020

December 31, 2020 § Leave a comment

I have been a hardcore social distancer since the shelter-in-place order went into effect back in March, which has meant eschewing restaurants’ outdoor dining options in favor of eating takeout at home and replacing my thrice-weekly grocery-store runs with pickup and delivery options. It’s been, well, weird—to say the least. 

So much of my work as a food writer has been based on getting out and experiencing our local food system in person: leisurely picking up seasonal produce and fresh fish from the San Mateo farmers’ market on a Saturday morning, grabbing a weekday lunch on the fly in downtown Redwood City, or settling in for a long dinner with an old friend at a new Peninsula must-try restaurant. 

And yet, while I miss those experiences, there are some aspects of the new normal that I’m digging—in particular, finding new (or new-to-me) food businesses to support. Ocean 2 Table’s weekly direct-to-my-front-door deliveries of freshly-caught local seafood—sablefish, California halibut, and yellowtail rockfish are just a few examples—have been a godsend. Maria Gregorio’s volunteer-run Giving Fruits not only provides grower-direct produce to Peninsula customers but also supports several charitable organizations. And on the restaurant side of things, new takeout options have meant being able to enjoy food from restaurants that usually have long waits for reservations, like Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshizumi in San Mateo (which I wrote about for the October issue of PUNCH Magazine) and Sushi Shin in Redwood City.  

Ultimately, food experiences in 2020 were more about taking joy where I found it, rather than seeking the newest, hottest, or best-of. Following are my “top five” eats of this year. 


Truth: boquerones will change your mind about anchovies. Cured in salt for preservation, then marinated in vinegar or lemon juice to balance the rich oiliness of the fish, these “white anchovies,” as they’re also known, are an excellent topper for toast, pasta, or salad. And the kicker: boquerones are super easy to make at home.

Boquerones with fennel, arugula, and gluten-free pasta

I ordered a pound of Monterey Bay sardines from Ocean 2 Table and used Hank Shaw’s recipe from his blog Hunter • Angler • Gardener • Cook to make my own boquerones in June, and I’ve been craving them ever since. Canned is just not the same.

Tomato and Burrata Salad (Oak+Violet)

Back in July, as the world tentatively opened up, I interviewed Oak+Violet’s Executive Chef, Simona Oliveri, for PUNCH Magazine’s August issue. Her passion for food and creating elegant plates for customers was inspiring—not to mention that she is one of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet. The beautifully-plated Tomato and Burrata Salad, a highlight of the restaurant’s “Sicilian Summer Nights” menu, embodies Simona’s skill and style.

tomato and burrata salad
Chef Simona Oliveri’s Tomato and Burrata Salad

The combination of thick wedges of sweet heirloom tomatoes, generous portion of milky burrata, peppery olive oil, sweet-acidic balsamic vinegar, and herbaceous fresh basil was the epitome of summer on a plate for me. 

15-Piece Chef’s Choice Nigiri (Sushi Shin)

Tiny nine-seat Sushi Shin in Redwood City was on my must-try list earlier this year (before you-know-what), although with limited seating and excellent early reviews, reservations were hard to come by. When the restaurant pivoted to Tock takeout, I jumped at the chance to treat myself and splurge on Chef Jason’s 15-piece edomae-style sushi box. To heighten the at-home omakase experience, the restaurant sent a text explaining the order in which to eat each piece.

Sushi Shin 15-piece box
Sushi Shin’s 15-piece nigiri

Careful preparation techniques highlight the flavor of every item in the box. Tasmanian trout, for example, is lightly smoked, but has an undertone of sweetness. Salty Kamasu (Chiba) is lightly torched; searing the outside adds a grilled flavor while maintaining the fish’s soft interior. And what to say about the Toro other than: pure indulgence! It needed nothing more than a smidge of soy sauce and Chef Jason’s lightly seasoned sushi rice to make a perfect bite. Tofu pudding with black sesame syrup was a light and satisfying ending to the meal. Currently Sushi Shin is on hiatus, but I am looking forward to their return.

Pluerry Compote

When pluerries turned up on Giving Fruit’s list of offerings at the end of summer, I couldn’t pass them up. Curious about this cross between a sweet cherry and plum, I placed my order for the smallest amount available: 10 pounds. (Pros and cons on this farm-to-table ordering thing.)

pluerries in box
Ten pounds of organic pluerries from Kashiwase Farms

If nothing else, I figured I’d knock out a few batches of jam, but I also wanted some sweet options for immediate gratification. Plum cake? Sure, but what else? Fortunately, I landed on this recipe for Santa Rosa Plum compote, substituting pluerries for plums and reducing the amount of sugar. With a touch of sweetness from the vanilla and a bit of tartness from the skins, there’s something elegant about this compote. I can confirm that it’s just as enjoyable eaten cold, straight from the fridge, as it is served warm over rice pudding. 

Spiced Persimmon and Ginger Muffins

Fall brought persimmons, and this year I was determined to work them into my baking repertoire. Having zero experience with Hachiya persimmons, this was another case of “buy now, figure it out later,” which had become part of my 2020 cooking philosophy. Fortunately, Hachiyas give you time: they need to be completely, smooshingly ripe before use, which can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. While the fruit (all 10 pounds of it) sat on my counter, I discovered Andrea Nguyen’s excellent ginger and persimmon adaptation of Alice Medrich’s gluten-free Dark and Spicy Pumpkin Muffins.

spicy ginger and persimmon muffins
Spiced persimmon and ginger muffins

With a soft, cake-like texture, bits of persimmons, chunks of sultanas and spicy candied ginger, these muffins are a breakfast treat or perfect afternoon snack with black tea and honey. For Christmas morning, I dressed them up with a dairy-free cream cheese frosting and a sprinkle of freshly-grated nutmeg. It was basically cake for breakfast. With several pounds of Hachiya purée in the freezer, I’ll be enjoying these muffins at least into spring 2021. 

And that’s a wrap for me! What are your top eats for 2020?

To Market, To Market

May 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

Weather-wise, things have been just a bit too Seattlesque for my taste this spring. Now that we’ve (hopefully) seen an end to the seemingly endless rainy, grey days, it’s time to get outside and enjoy our fine Bay Area weather.

May is one of my favorite months in the 650, not only because our usually fine weather settles in and days are longer and sunnier — but also because all of our neighborhood farmers’ markets are back in full swing. While we don’t lack for year-round markets in the 650, some neighborhood markets, such as Los Altos, Palo Alto Downtown, and Half Moon Bay close during fall and winter. For those of you who might have been missing your local market, the wait is over!

Here’s the list of markets re-opening in May.

Market Opening Date Market Day
Half Moon Bay May 6, 2017 Saturdays
Los Altos, Downtown May 4, 2017 Thursdays
Palo Alto, Downtown May 13, 2017 Saturdays
Pacifica, Rockaway Beach May 3, 2017 Wednesdays
San Mateo, W. 25th Avenue May 2, 2017 Tuesdays
South San Francisco May 6, 2017 Saturdays

April and May are a transitional time at the market as we’re seeing the last of “winter” produce, such as root vegetables and citrus, and the arrival of beans, peas, and stone fruit.


What’s in the market now: Palo Alto California Avenue market, Spring 2017

If grocery shopping isn’t on your agenda, farmers’ markets are a fun place to grab a meal and enjoy the sunshine while people watching. Just a few examples from my recent visit to the Palo Alto Sunday market on California Avenue: dim sum, grilled meat sandwiches, bahn mi, sushi, and homestyle Mexican dishes with handmade tortillas. There’s something interesting to taste whatever your food preferences.


Dim Sum on a sunny Sunday


Because: meat


Fresh masa for handmade tortillas

Need to know which market is when? Following is handy-dandy list of all farmers’ markets in the 650, with 2017 opening dates. Click the market link for more info, such as location, parking, and vendors.

City/Market Market Day(s) Open
Belmont Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Daly City, Serramonte Ctr. Thursday & Sunday,
9am – 1pm
Half Moon Bay, Shoreline Station Saturday, 9am – 1pm May 6 – Dec 21
Los Altos, Downtown Thursday, 4 – 8pm May 4 – Sep 30
Menlo Park Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Millbrae Saturday, 8am – 1pm Year-Round
Mountain View Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Pacifica, Rockaway Beach Saturday, 9am – 1pm May 6 – Dec 21
Palo Alto, California Ave. Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Palo Alto, Downtown Saturday, 9am – 1pm May 13 –
Palo Alto, VA Wednesday, 10am – 2pm Apr 12 – Oct 25
Redwood City, Kaiser Wednesday, 10am – 2pm Apr 5 – Nov 22
Redwood City, Downtown Saturday, 8am – 12pm April 15 – Nov
San Carlos, Laurel Street Sunday, 10am – 2pm Year-Round
San Mateo, College of SM Saturday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
San Mateo, W. 25th Ave. Tuesday, 4 – 7:30pm May 2 – Oct 10

Now get out and support your local food system; meet the people who grow your food and nourish our communities!

Tell me: what is/are your favorite farmers’ market(s) in the 650?support-small-farms

Waste-Less Wednesday: Whole Lemon Bars

February 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

If you live in The 650, then you know that citrus does very well here. Lemons, limes, grapefruits, all kinds of oranges… you see them in front yards, back yards, side yards, and along driveways throughout my neighborhood. The high point for the citrus harvest is usually December through February. However, with the “weird weather” (as my father calls it) we’ve had lately, my little back yard lemon tree has been producing non-stop since November. You know what that means: I’m up to my ass in lemons. To date I’ve probably harvested about 40 pounds of fruit.

In past years I’ve experimented with a variety of lemon-based recipes, here are just a few of my favorites:

However, with all of the travelling I’ve been doing, I haven’t had time for much cooking or food preservation projects, so I’ve been limited to juicing and zesting. Upside is that I can freeze both (juice and zest) for use later. I have a Cambro container in my freezer, filled with lemon juice cubes that I can just grab whenever I need lemon juice on the fly. A quick turn in the microwave on “Melt,” et voila!


Running low on frozen lemon juice cubes

As for the zest, I make little parchment-paper packets of approximately a teaspoon of zest, wrap them in plastic wrap, then store in a freezer bag. Again, when I need zest, all I have to do is reach into the freezer. The guts that are left over after juicing and zesting are destined for the compost bin, but it would be nice if I had another option for using the whole fruit.

I’m always on the lookout for “root-to-stem” recipes when it comes to produce, and recently I came across a keeper for Whole Lemon Bars from one of my favorite pastry chef/cookbook authors, David Lebovitz. Lebovitz earned his chops at Chez Panisse and other Bay Area restaurants before relocating to France to focus on writing cookbooks. I’ve been a fan since purchasing his first two books — Room for Dessert and Ripe for Dessert — both of which are still favorites in my collection. His techniques are easy to follow, and the recipes just work.

I’m reluctant to use the term “genius recipe,” for anything, but I think Lebovitz has nailed it with the Whole Lemon Bars. What’s so genius? You use a whole lemon, plus some added juice, minimizing waste. Using a whole lemon results in a sweet-tart bar that is very lemony. I made a minor modification to the crust (described below), but nothing that warrants an “adapted from” version here, so just follow the link above to view the recipe on David Lebovitz’ site.


From this…


…to this

If you’re following a gluten-free diet, you can easily make the crust gluten-free by substituting a “cup-for-cup,” gluten-free flour. I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour, but feel free to use whatever works for you. I also baked the crust for 27 minutes (longer than Lebovitz’ suggestion of 25 minutes), but that might just be my oven. The result was a golden-brown, crispy crust that had the same taste and texture as the wheat-flour version.

A few additional observations and suggestions that I’d like to share:

  • For same-size squares, use a ruler to measure and a long, thin-blade knife to cut. I keep a metal ruler in my kitchen for just this sort of thing. knife-and-ruler
  • Store the cut bars in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature for service. Lebovitz says you can store the bars in an at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three days, but I found that they got a bit weepy on the second day (maybe my kitchen is too warm).
  • You can freeze these bars without worrying about texture change. Thaw frozen bars in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature before serving.
  • Too much pith will add a bitter note to the bars, so use a lemon that has moderate rind (less than 1/2″).

Have you made Whole Lemon Bars? bar-hero-shot

Waste-Less Wednesday: Meyer Lemon Curd

May 13, 2015 § 2 Comments

So, let’s say you zest 10 or 12 Meyer lemons for Organic Meyer Lemon Limoncello, leaving you with a bunch of nekkid fruit. And then? Juice them, of course. And then? Then you have about a pint of Meyer lemon juice. And then? Exactly. Now you have to come up with a way to use up that lovely, fresh lemon juice. Sure, you can dip into that pint when making salad dressings, lemonade, lemon sorbet, and so on, but what about a recipe that really lets the fresh, unique flavor of Meyer lemons shine — and makes a serious dent in the amount of lemon juice taking up space in your refrigerator?

The answer to “And then?” is Meyer lemon curd! Having luscious, creamy, tangy-sweet lemon curd on hand means that you’re halfway to quick lemon tarts, lemon bars, or a sunny topping for pound cake or scones. Sweet! (Dude!)

Meyer lemon curd

Meyer lemon curd

Lemon curd is not a jam or a sauce, it’s actually a custard (although you can thin it with juice or cream to make it saucy). Other sweet treats that are custards? Crême brulée and ice cream, for example. A custard, by definition, is a combination of eggs, milk or cream, and sugar, typically cooked either on the stovetop or in the oven. Lemon curd substitutes lemon juice for the milk or cream and gets its creamy mouthfeel from the addition of butter at the end of the cooking process.

While Meyer lemon curd seemed like a good waste-less solution to too much lemon juice and some eggs that were teetering on being too old to keep around, finding the right recipe was a bit of a problem. My go-to lemon curd recipe calls for a small pile of zest and egg yolks (not whole eggs, just yolks). Not an ideal solution because I’d end up with leftover egg whites and more nekkid lemons, which meant more juice. Hmmm, this didn’t seem to sit right with the Waste-Less Wednesday mission to reduce waste. I was trying to reduce waste, not create more.

What I needed was a lemon curd recipe that met these criteria:

  • No zest required
  • Whole eggs or whole eggs plus one or two yolks (Why one or two? Because you can easily use up one or two egg whites making an egg-white omelette or Pisco Sours!)
  • Not too sweet
  • No straining necessary

So what about that last part — no straining? No, I’m not referring to the amount of physical effort required to make the curd! Depending on how you cook the lemon curd, you can end up with some cooked egg bits in the finished curd that you’ll need to strain out if you want a completely smooth lemon curd. Temperature is the culprit here. Egg whites cook more quickly than egg yolks, so it’s key that you whisk the egg whites and yolks together thoroughly before you start cooking the curd.

Cooking technique is also a factor. Recipes that call for cooking lemon curd directly over heat (as opposed to in a double-boiler setup) — or even boiling the curd — can result in uneven or too much heat too quickly, causing the eggs in the mixture to curdle. What you need to know about cooking custards is that you want to cook them low and slow — with evenly distributed heat. That’s why custards are often cooked in or over water baths. So, really all lemon curd needs is a double-boiler setup and your undivided attention for 10-15 minutes.

Ah, where to find this unicorn of lemon curd recipes? It was a quest — through a dozen cookbooks and magazines and half a dozen online recipe sites.

There are at least this many lemon curd recipes in the world

There are at least This Many lemon curd recipes in the world

Who knew there were so many different (and yet similar) lemon curd recipes in the world? After all of that research, I can’t say that I found one recipe that met my criteria for ingredients and technique together, but I had some reliable sources to draw on for inspiration in creating my own easy-to-make, rich lemon curd.

What did I learn?

  • You can make a flavorful lemon curd without zest (adding zest to the mix will amp up the flavor, no doubt, but it’s not required)
  • Egg yolks give the curd its vibrant yellow color and rich flavor, so use eggs with rich yolks
  • Balance between sweet and tart is essential, so the amount of sugar should be less than or equal to the amount of juice in the recipe
  • You can cut out the straining step by keeping the cooking temperature even and stirring the mixture continuously

Have you made lemon curd? With or without zest? Strained or not? Share your thoughts and experiences in the column below.

Recipe: Meyer Lemon Curd
Inspired by: The Culinary Institute of America and Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz
Yield: About 16 ounces

Here it is: a zest-free, no-strain, minimal-waste, creamy lemon curd with all the sweet tangy flavor of Meyer lemons. (Note that I do include an optional straining step, in case you need it.) Make sure that you can commit an uninterrupted 10-15 minutes to the cooking process. You need to stir the curd continuously during this time. Serve this luscious treat as a complement to plain baked goods, such as cakes or scones, as a topper for waffles, or with fresh berries.

What you need:

Double-boiler or 2-quart saucepan and Pyrex or stainless steel bowl that fits securely in the top of the saucepan
Wooden spoon
Kitchen towel or hot pad
Medium-sized Pyrex or stainless steel bowl
9″ x 13″ metal baking pan for ice-water bath
2 dozen ice cubes
Optional: Instant read-thermometer
Optional: Fine-mesh strainer


6 ounces freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
6 ounces fair trade organic sugar
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks, from large eggs (total weight of eggs plus yolks is about 5 ounces)
3 ounces sweet butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of salt

Ingredients: Eggs, fresh Meyer lemon juice, sugar,  butter, and a pinch of salt

Ingredients: Eggs, fresh Meyer lemon juice, sugar, butter, and a pinch of salt

How to:

  1. Fill the saucepan with approximately 2 inches of water, cover with a lid, and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to medium-high.
    You want to be sure that there’s enough water to keep the simmer going, but not so much that the insert or bowl will be immersed in water when you place it on top of the saucepan. Also, you shouldn’t see any steam coming from the saucepan. If, at any time during the cooking process, steam starts to come out of the saucepan, turn down the heat.
  2. Prepare the ice-water bath. Fill the baking pan with a dozen ice cubes and then add enough water to fill the pan about halfway. Place a clean, medium-sized bowl in the baking pan.

    Ice bath setup with clean bowl for finished lemon curd

    Ice bath setup with clean bowl for finished lemon curd

  3. In the other bowl or double-boiler insert, whisk the eggs until yolks and whites are well combined, adding the pinch of salt.
  4. Stabilize the bowl or insert by placing a rubber jar opener or folded wet kitchen towel underneath, then whisk in the juice.
    Pour the juice in slowly with one hand, while whisking to combine it with the eggs using the other hand. For example, if you’re right-handed, pour the juice into the eggs with your left hand, and whisk with the right.

    Whisking in the juice: make sure you stabilize the bowl with a rubber pad or wet towel underneath

    Whisking in the juice: make sure you stabilize the bowl with a rubber pad or wet towel underneath

  5. Whisk the sugar into the egg and juice mixture.
    Use the same technique as you did to whisk in the juice.
  6. Place the bowl or insert into the saucepan over the simmering water and, using the whisk, stir continuously for about 10 minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken.
    For the first five minutes, nothing will happen, but keep stirring at a slow-to-medium pace. Around the 8-minute mark you’ll notice a little thickening, barely. Don’t stop stirring. You’ll want to keep the mixture moving the entire time so it cooks evenly and doesn’t have a chance to curdle. I’m not kidding. Don’t stop. Don’t step away for a minute, or you might end up with lemon scrambled eggs.

    Keep stirring for even cooking

    Five minutes in and nothing yet, but keep stirring for even cooking

  7. After 10-12 minutes test for doneness and temperature. You want to cook the mixture until its thickened and an instant-read thermometer reads 175° F.
    If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, try this old-school method of testing doneness: dip the back of a wooden spoon in the mixture. The curd should coat the back of the spoon. If not, keep stirring and cooking. If the spoon is coated, run your finger through the curd that sticks to the spoon. If the gap doesn’t close at all, the curd is ready to come off the heat.

    The spoon test (works when making ice cream custard, too!)

    The spoon test (works when making ice cream custard, too!)

  8. Turn off the heat, and remove the bowl or insert, placing it on a folded towel. Add half the butter cubes to the mixture and whisk until completely melted and combined. Then add the other half, again, whisking until completely combined.

    Whisking in the butter after taking curd off the heat

    Whisking in the butter after taking curd off the heat

    As the curd cools, it will continue to thicken, so don’t worry if doesn’t seem thick enough now. However, residual heat will continue to cook the curd, so it’s important to bring the temperature down as soon as possible, which is why you want to get the curd into an ice-water bath.

  9. Add the remaining dozen ice cubes to the prepared ice-water bath.
  10. Optional: Sometimes you’ll end up with a few bits of cooked egg whites in the curd. If you want a completely smooth curd, you can strain it through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl in the ice bath. Use a rubber spatula to press the curd through the sieve.
    I had a few bits of egg white in my curd, but they’re so tiny that I could have skipped the straining.

    Those tiny white flecks are bits of egg white that cooked too quickly

    Those tiny white flecks are bits of egg white that cooked too quickly

  11. If you skipped step 10, use a rubber spatula to scrape the curd from the double-boiler insert or bowl into the clean bowl in the ice bath.
  12. Cover the curd with a piece of plastic wrap so that the curd doesn’t develop a “skin.”

    Keep your curd skin-free: place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top

    Keep your curd skin-free: place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top

  13. Top up the water in the baking pan so that it’s equal with or slightly above the level of the curd in the bowl.
  14. Place the ice bath (with curd bowl) in the refrigerator and allow the curd to cool for 1-2 hours before serving.
  15. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks.curd-hero_edited-1

I Got Sunshine: DIY Organic Limoncello

April 11, 2015 § 1 Comment

Ah, limoncello! That little glass of sunshine on a cloudy day (or a sunny day, or… any day). Limoncello is lemony-sweet boozy goodness that you can enjoy as an apertif, a digestif, or anywhere in between. If you’ve got some patience, lemons, clear alcohol of at least 80 proof (vodka, for example), and simple syrup, you can make your own limoncello to enjoy whenever.

Sunshine in a glass

Sunshine in a glass

When I wrote about Lemonpalooza earlier this year, one of the projects on my list was to make a tasty organic limoncello. Maybe not the “it tastes just like the one on had in Italy that one time.” But a flavorful, balanced — not too sweet and not too boozy — indulgence, using good ingredients. Deciding on the right combo of lemons, alcohol and simple syrup meant getting into research-geek mode (definitely part of the fun!). I reviewed a variety of recipes from across the interwebs and dug for deets about alcohol content and aging times for liqueurs.

Thinking about making your own limoncello? Here are some tips to help you along.

Go Organic and Pesticide-Free
While not certified organic, the lemons I get from my backyard and from my neighbors are pesticide-free. In fact, other than the occasional watering — mostly from the little rainfall we’ve had this year — these lemons are just doing their own thing without the help of other chemicals. If you’re trying to follow a healthy, sustainable diet, why not consider doing same with homemade liqueurs?

Limoncello made in Italy typically uses Femminello ‘St. Teresa’ lemons. Larger than our local ‘Eureka’, the Femminello’s zest has more lemon oil, which gives Italian limoncello that oh-so-lemony flavor. (Want to know more about Femminellos? Check out While some of the specialty citrus growers are starting to cultivate Femminello lemons here in California, the fruit aren’t widely available in the market yet. Given the local abundance of Meyers at this time of year (and their unique sweet-tart flavor), they’re a good choice for a 650-style liqueur. Traditional? No. Delicious? Yes.

Grain Alcohol vs. Vodka
While in research-geek mode, I tracked down at least a dozen recipes from reputable sources. (Incidentally, all of them the best limoncello recipe evah! ) For every best ev-ah! recipe out there, there’s another best ev-ah! that contradicted the previous — particularly when it came to the type of alcohol to use: high-proof grain alcohol vs. 80-proof vodka. Given that I want to know who’s making my consumables, the source of their ingredients, and the distiller’s take on sustainability, I opted for an 80-proof organic vodka that has a clean, neutral finish. Choosing a lower-proof base alcohol also meant that I didn’t have to add as much simple syrup to dilute the alcohol percentage of my finished limoncello.

Simple Syrup and Alcohol Content
The alcohol content of commercially made limoncellos falls in the 26-32% range (that’s 52-64 proof). That percentage is determined by how much simple syrup you add to the lemon-infused alcohol. Sound complicated? It’s not. The more simple syrup you add, the more you dilute the alcohol, thus lowering the percentage. More simple syrup = less boozy and sweeter. Less simple syrup = more boozy and less sweet. Got it?

Taste will rule how much simple syrup you add to your limoncello, but if you want to geek out and make sure you get your limoncello in that 26-32% range for alcohol content, then website LimoncelloQuest can help. The site provides a calculator that quickly figures out for you how much simple syrup to add to your lemon-infused alcohol. Of course, you can skip the calculator and rely completely on your own palate, ‘cos taste-testing is part of the fun of creating your own liqueur.

If there’s any downside to making limoncello, it’s the waiting. The infusion process takes about four weeks, then there’s a few more days of waiting after you dilute the infusion with simple syrup. That’s right. More waiting. What I’ve learned is that the last part — that additional week of aging — is key. You have to let the simple syrup and lemon-infused alcohol do their thing in the dark for a few days — better yet, a week. During this time the alcohol will mellow a bit, reducing any harshness.

Back in February, I promised that if all went well, I’d post the recipe. <Drumroll> Well, two months later, and half three-quarters of the bottle gone, here it is: DIY Organic Limoncello.

Recipe: DIY Organic Limoncello
Yield: About 1 liter, depending on the amount of dilution and taste testing.
The base alcohol you use matters as much as the lemons, so choose a neutral, smooth vodka that fits your budget and dietary requirements or lifestyle (gluten-free, kosher, grain allergy, etc.). Note that I’ve specified organic cane sugar for this recipe, which produces a richer-flavored and darker-colored simple syrup than you’ll get using refined white sugar.

Use the best quality lemons and vodka for your taste and budget

Use the best quality lemons and vodka for your taste and budget

For the Infusion
What You Need:

1 bottle (750 ml) Tru Organic Vodka
10 organic / pesticide-free Meyer lemons
1-Liter glass jar, clean and dry
1 piece of plastic wrap, to cover the mouth of the jar

How to:

  1. Rinse the lemons to remove any dust or dirt.
    If necessary, use a small brush to scrub away any dirt or insects that don’t come off easily.

    Tip: keep a small scrub brush handy for cleaning citrus skins

    Tip: keep a small scrub brush handy for cleaning citrus skins

  2. Using a fine zester (Microplane or box grater), zest the lemons.
    Reserve naked lemons for other uses.
  3. Combine zest and vodka in the jar.
    Use any jar that has a snuggly fitting lid and a wide-ish opening, such as a mason jar. When the time comes, you’ll have to strain the zest out of the container, and you don’t want to struggle with some narrow opening.
  4. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar. Close the lid tightly and place in a cool, dark spot to infuse for four weeks.

    Put a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar before sealing

    Put a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar before sealing

    Suggestion: Label the jar with today’s date. A piece of masking tape and a Sharpie should do the trick.

  5. Create an alert on your calendar for four weeks from now so that you know when to dilute the infusion.

Simple Syrup
Yield: About 1½ cups


8 ounces fair-trade, organic sugar
8 ounces filtered water

How to:

  1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover saucepan, and allow syrup to cool to room temperature before using.
  2. If not using immediately, store in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 weeks.
    Note: Simple syrup made with natural, organic sugar has slight brownish hue to it, which will darken the limoncello. It won’t be quite as day-glo yellow as limoncello made with refined sugar, but I think the flavor is better.

Diluting and Aging
What You’ll Need:

Clean 1-liter jar
Several layers of cheesecloth
1½ cups simple syrup (recipe above)

How to:

  1. Line the funnel with several layers of cheesecloth and place it in the mouth of the clean jar.

    Line the funnel with several layers of cheesecloth before straining

    Line the funnel with several layers of cheesecloth before straining

  2. Pour the infused alcohol and zest into the funnel, straining the zest from the liquid.
  3. Squeeze all liquid from the cheesecloth into the jar.

    Make sure to get all of that lemon-infused goodness out of the zest

    Make sure to get all of that lemon-infused goodness out of the zest

  4. Pour 1 cup of the simple syrup into the jar and stir. Taste the mixture.
    It might taste boozy at this point; the alcohol content will be about 30%, or 60 proof. If you think this might be to your taste, close the jar, and put it in a cool, dark place to age for a week. If, after a week, your limoncello is still too boozy or harsh, you can add more simple syrup at that time. Just give it a few more days to age.
    If you think you’d prefer a sweeter limoncello, add more simple syrup, two tablespoons at time. Stir, then taste. FYI, I added the full 12 ounces of simple syrup all at once for 27% alcohol content (54 proof) and ended up with the perfect balance of alcohol and sweetness for my palate. I probably could have gone with just a tablespoon or two less, but it’s so damn good!
  5. Age your final mixture for a week, then transfer to the final storage bottle or container. Store in refrigerator or freezer. Serve chilled.picnic-bottle
    You might notice a “scum” forming at the top of the container. This is a coagulation of the natural lemon oils in the mixture (it’s flav-ah!). Simply stir or shake the container to redistribute the oils.

Have you made limoncello? What’s your best ev-ah recipe?

Waste-Less Wednesday: Soba Noodles with 650 Gremolata

March 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

Today’s Birthday Week indulgence is homemade comfort food that brings together two recent Waste-Less Wednesday ingredients: lemons and herbs. Remember those 7-Day Preserved Lemons? After a week of climbing the kitchen stepladder to shake those babies up, it’s time to crack them open and take them for a taste test!

So... how'd they turn out?

So… how’d they turn out?

Opening the mason jar of marinated lemons after it spent a week in the surprisingly warm upper-reaches of my kitchen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would they actually taste ok, or would the flavors be off? Would this be another kitchen experiment to hit the compost bin?

The first bite was soft, tart, and salty. The rinds and flesh had softened, but weren’t mooshy, with the lemon flesh coming away from the soft rinds easily. The flavor was definitely Meyer — lemon with a hint of tangerine — and tart, but not puckeringly so. Ooooh, this was gonna be good! (And a little weird when I realized that I was eating wedges of lemon!) I almost forgot the final step of the process, which was to cover the lemons in olive oil to help preserve them in the fridge. So, now I have these salty, somewhat-tart, soft lemons dipped in olive oil. Nothin’ bad about that!

Almost forgot to top up the jar with olive oil!

Almost forgot to top up the jar with olive oil!

In general, I wouldn’t eat these preserved lemons out of the jar, but I could think of all the ways that they would be a flavorful accent to pasta, fish, or a composed salad. What to make first? I love the idea of gremolata — a classic Italian condiment of fresh lemon zest, parsley, and garlic — but with a twist. When making the classic version, you’ll get the best results when all ingredients are freshest. But what if your ingredients aren’t super-fresh? How about a variation that brings together roasted garlic, preserved lemons, and minced parsley?

Using preserved lemons means that you can use the whole lemon, not just the zest. Roasting garlic cloves lets you extend the life of your garlic, giving it a sweet but complex flavor and soft texture that makes it more versatile. And even less-than-fresh parsley has something to add to this combo! (I’ll confess that I keep my parsley in a ziplock bag for two weeks or more, weeding out the <ahem> discolored or floppy branches. It’s not always pretty, but I’m doing what I can to get the most out of a bunch of parsley.) And the best part is that you can prepare all the components in advance and store them in your refrigerator until you’re ready to put them together!

So, inspired by the classic gremolata, here’s my recipe for a homemade mid-week meal that is flavorful, comforting, and indulgent.

Recipe: Soba Noodles with 650 Gremolata
Yield: 1 serving
This pasta is on the lighter side and perfect for a weeknight spring meal or weekend lunch. The recipe makes enough for one person. Double up if you’re cooking for two (or just want some leftovers). Scale up if you’re cooking for a crowd. Feel free to make adjustments to the parsley, garlic, or lemon or amount of pasta based on your taste and preferences. Add a seasonal green salad with grated carrots or tomato wedges to round out the meal.

Ingredients (per serving):

1 wedge preserved lemon, chopped finely
4 large roasted garlic cloves*, peeled or removed from their papery casings
2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped finely
2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauté pan
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 – 3 tablespoons shredded cheese (Asiago, Parmesan, or a blend)
2 – 2¼ ounces soba noodles
Salt and black pepper to taste
Optional: 1 – 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Make the preserved lemons and roasted garlic in advance and store them in your refrigerator

Make the preserved lemons and roasted garlic in advance and store them in your refrigerator

* To roast garlic: You can roast garlic in a toaster oven or toss it into the baking dish when making roasted vegetables in a full-sized oven. Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut the top off a head of garlic and peel away a couple of the head’s outer paper-like layers. Place the garlic head in the center of a 5″ square piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil (don’t douse it) and then fold the foil around the garlic head, enclosing it. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the cloves are soft enough to pierce with a sharp knife or skewer.

What you need:

Small sauté pan
Medium bowl
4-quart pot for the noodles

How to:

  1. Start heating the water for the noodles while you make the gremolata.
    Review the package directions for the amount of water to boil. By the time you’ve made the gremolata, the pasta should be ready to go into the pot.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in the sauté pan over medium heat.
  3. Add the chopped preserved lemon and sauté for 2-3 minutes until lightly brown and fragrant. Remove from heat.

    Saute the preserved lemon just until it colors a bit and is fragrant, 2-3 minutes.

    Sauté the preserved lemon just until it colors a bit and is fragrant,
    2-3 minutes.

  4. Place the garlic cloves in the medium bowl and crush them with the back of a spoon until you have a garlic paste.

    Soft, roasted garlic cloves crush easily with the back of a spoon -- or you can use a mortar and pestle, if you wanna get fancy

    Soft, roasted garlic cloves crush easily with the back of a spoon — or use a
    mortar and pestle, if you wanna get fancy

  5. Add the olive oil to the garlic paste and mix together using a spoon or fork.
  6. Add the parsley, sautéed lemon, and roasted red pepper, mixing to combine. Set aside while you make the noodles.

    650 gremolata: ready for pasta

    650 gremolata: ready for pasta

  7. Follow the package directions for making soba noodles.
    Make sure that you drain the noodles well, removing as much water as possible after cooking.
  8. Add the noodles to the gremolata mixture, tossing to coat the pasta thoroughly.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Turn out into a serving bowl or dish and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

    Mmmm... earthy soba noodles with garlicky, lemony, herbal goodness.

    Mmmm… earthy soba noodles with garlicky, lemony, herbal goodness.

  11. Want to add to the indulgence? Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

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