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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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?
October 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
It’s a fine line between the end of summer and beginning of fall here in the 650. Our warm, sunny days might continue right up until Thanksgiving, making you wonder how the holidays came up so quickly. The clues are there: leaves turning from bright green to brown and vibrant red (but slowly, not all at once), shorter days, and a change in the way the sunlight comes in my kitchen window… more golden in color, but not as bright or strong as during the summer.
You see it in the markets, too, of course. Summer produce is mostly finished by October 1, although in good years you’ll still see strawberries lingering for a few more weeks. Stone fruit is long gone, as are blueberries and the second flush of figs. Apples, pears, and persimmons have made their way into the market. Even the concord grapes have come and gone.
I’m now doing the happy dance for the efforts I made to preserve food during those crazy hot days of summer: the jars of jam that have taken over most of a large kitchen cabinet, not to mention the roasted tomatoes, beets, and peppers that have filled my freezer. I’m a little wistful to see summer go; it’s definitely my favorite food season.
Back in early June, after visiting Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, I put together what I thought of as the quintessential 650 summer salad: mixed baby greens with edible flowers from Fifth Crow Farm, topped with strawberries (also from Fifth Crow Farm), Blenheim apricots from my backyard, and Harley Farm’s Honey Lavender Chèvre.
By the time I made the second visit to Harley Farms in late August to pick up more Honey Lavender Chèvre, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make that same salad again until next year. My backyard apricot tree was bare, as the harvest ended at the beginning of July, and Fifth Crow Farm’s tender baby greens with edible flowers weren’t showing up in my CSA box. Instead, they’d been placed by spinach and baby kale. (Not that I’m complaining, by any means. That’s the beauty of eating seasonally, new things just keep coming!) *sigh* It was a nice little dish, that salad, and I look forward to making it again next June, when those Blenheims are ripe and sweet. In the meantime, there were other salad variations with which to enjoy that luscious goat cheese from Harley Farms.
What follows is the original Pescadero-inspired salad from early summer. If you can still get good strawberries now, go ahead and make it, substituting sweet-tart apples or even fuyu persimmons for the apricots. Otherwise, you can squirrel it away for next year, when strawberries and apricots hit the market in early summer. If we’re well into fall by the time you read this, then scroll on down to the bottom of the page for a seasonal variation.
Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Honey Lavender Goat Cheese (Summer)
I believe in improvising when making salads — use whatever you’ve got and assemble the ingredients according to your taste. There’s no measuring, and you can’t really go wrong, as long as you’re using fresh ingredients that you enjoy. I’ve approximated the measurements for two servings, but feel free to adjust to your taste and appetite.
3 – 4 cups Fifth Crow Farms organic baby greens salad mix with edible flowers
3 – 4 medium organic Blenheim apricots, rinsed and sliced into eighths (Early fall version: substitute thinly sliced sweet-tart apples, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Pearl)
8 – 10 medium organic strawberries, rinsed, stemmed, hulled, and sliced into quarters
2 – 3 tablespoons honey lavender goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
- Split the ingredients between two bowls or dinner plates. Place the greens on the dish first, then top with slices of fruit, arranging the pieces evenly.
- Drizzle olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over each salad.
- Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Top with crumbled goat cheese.
Wine pairing suggestion: French-style rosé
Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Honey Lavender Goat Cheese (Fall)
The roasted carrots in this autumn version of the salad add a sweet-savory-earthy component that works surprisingly well with the honey lavender goat cheese. If you’re feeling adventurous, toss in some roasted fennel, which plays well with both the apple and the carrot.
3 – 4 cups Fifth Crow Farms organic mixed lettuces, spinach, or a combination, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 medium sweet-tart apple, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Pearl, cut into thin slices
2 – 3 medium roasted carrots, cut into chunks
2 – 3 tablespoons honey lavender goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
Optional: Chopped toasted pecan pieces to finish the salad
- Follow instructions for the summer salad version for assembly.
- Wine-pairing suggestion: California chardonnay
May 27, 2015 § 5 Comments
Last year I posted a recipe for Spring Vegetable Broth, which in retrospect, should have been titled “Year-Round Vegetable Broth.” Although the vegetables called for hit that seasonal sweet spot between late winter and early spring, you’re likely to be able to find the ingredients (or flavorful substitutes) just about any time of year here in the 650.
I’ve been making this broth for years; it’s a staple in my kitchen. Healthful, low-fat, and fresh, it has been the basis for so many comforting soups, rice dishes, and pastas. Making broths and stocks are a great way to use up wilty and just-about-out-the-door vegetables and herbs, leftover peels, and a variety of vegetable bits and bobs. Spring Vegetable Broth is the kind of recipe that not only offers a simple and useful way to reduce food waste in the kitchen, but also encourages creative, to-your-taste cooking.
Truth be told, I never make this broth exactly the same way twice. I’ve substituted yellow carrots for orange, sweet potatoes for butternut squash, dried thyme for fresh… you get the idea. And yet, every time, I end up with a flavorful broth that is good its own or as the basis of a homemade soup.
The by-product of this tasty broth is what I’ve referred to as the vegetable “smoosh.” After boiling the vegetables, herbs, and spices in filtered water for an hour or so, you press everything through a strainer to extract all of that brothy goodness. What you’re left with is a small pile of smashed vegetables that look something like rough baby food. And what do you do with this smoosh? Well, for lack of a better idea, it’s likely to end up in the green bin or compost pile. But what if you could use it for another recipe? A two-for-one deal, if you will. That would be a big win in the weekly war on food waste at home!
That’s the question I’ve been considering for the past year or so: what if you could make something out of the leftovers of making broth? For starters, it’s not much to look at — boiled down, smashed vegetables. Then there’s the fact that some of the flavor has been extracted for the broth. And yet, it just seems like such a waste to toss out what amounts to about a pound of rough vegetable mash. It is, after all, still food. Making something out of it would not only reduce food waste, but let you benefit twice from the money spent on those vegetables in the first place.
With a little doctoring, it turns out that vegetable smoosh is a good base for homemade veggie burgers! The first step? Make sure you’ve strained as much liquid as possible out of the vegetable mash. Once you’ve got a fairly dry and chunky mixture of vegetable smoosh, adding brown rice and bread crumbs give some substance to the mix and absorb any remaining liquid. Adding an egg helps bind everything together and adds a little fat (not a bad thing). The vegetable flavors are muted, so you’ll need to add herbs and spices that accent the vegetables without overwhelming them. Finally, a two-step stove-top cooking method lets you get a crisp exterior on the burgers, while cooking them thoroughly.
Recipe: Veggie Smoosh Burgers
Yield: 4 small burgers (approximately 3″ patties)
You’ll need to make sure that you’ve extracted as much liquid as possible from the vegetable smoosh before making the burgers, which means putting some muscle into the straining part of making the broth. (Note that this recipe calls for 8 ounces of vegetable smoosh, although a full batch of Spring Vegetable Broth should produce about 1 pound of smoosh, enough for a double-batch of burgers.)
Serve these burgers on a bun with your favorite toppings, or bunless alongside a seasonal, fresh green salad. Mild tomato-based sauces, such as pico de gallo and homemade ketchup complement the delicate vegetable flavor of these burgers, as do carrot-top pesto or hummus.
What you need:
Plate for breading the patties
12-14″ frying pan (or use a 10″ frying pan and cook the patties in two batches)
8 ounces organic vegetable smoosh, leftover from making Spring Vegetable Broth, with as much liquid as possible pressed out
3 ounces cooked organic brown rice
1 ounce dry breadcrumbs, plus 1/2 cup for coating the patties (I used homemade breadcrumbs from spelt bread)
1 tablespoon chopped or snipped fresh chives (1/4″ pieces)
1 large egg
½ teaspoon worcestershire sauce
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying the patties
- Using a rubber spatula, combine the vegetable smoosh, rice, and breadcrumbs in a medium-size bowl.
- Add the egg, worcestershire sauce, spices, and chives and mix until thoroughly combined.
The mixture should be sticky, but not stiff. You should be able to easily scoop the mixture and form it into a cohesive ball.
- Divide the mixture into four equal-sized portions (approximately 3.5 ounces each). Roll each portion into a ball, then flatten it into a patty.
The patties should be about ½” thick and about 3″ in diameter.
- Pour the additional ½ cup of breadcrumbs onto a plate for coating the patties.
- Press both sides and the edges of each patty into the breadcrumbs, coating completely.
When all patties are coated in breadcrumbs, set aside while you heat the pan for frying.
- Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the frying pan and heat on high until the oil glistens but doesn’t smoke.
Swirl the oil around the pan to coat the bottom completely.
- Place the patties in the pan and cook for 30-60 seconds to “sear” the outside, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for another 7 minutes.
- Turn the heat back up to high, flip the patties, and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Again, cook for 30-60 seconds to “sear” the outside, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for another 7 minutes.
- Serve immediately.
May 22, 2015 § 1 Comment
Blueberries are back in season, and they’re everywhere right now! Local market providers Triple D Ranch and Sierra Cascade (one of my favs for their sustainable practices and sweet berries) are bringing their berries to farmers’ markets and local stores. Whole Foods recently had a good deal on San Joaquin Valley berries from Delta Blues. Right now blueberries are plentiful, and prices reasonable, so stock up.
Unfortunately, we don’t see many locally grown blueberries (as in, right here in the 650), but we’re fortunate to have some quality regional organic growers from points north. Early season berries tend to be a bit more tart — especially with our cooler weather this year — but we should see sweeter berries as the season continues. I’m digging blueberries in my morning cereal, the occasional blueberry compote (a good solution for too-tart berries), and my favorite: blueberry scones.
If you’re thinking “Meh, scones; they’re so dry,” let me persuade you otherwise. Made with a little love and attention, a good scone hits that sweet spot between pastry and cake. The crumb isn’t as fine as that of a cake or muffin, yet the texture is moist and tender — sturdy enough to be a tasty delivery device for jam or lemon curd.
Scones are essentially a rubbed dough (like pie dough), in which you coat the flour with fat. There are two keys to making a tender scone: adding enough moisture and not overworking the dough. The moisture comes in the form of Greek yogurt and a bit of lemon juice. Not overworking the dough means combining ingredients by hand and work it just enough to combine the ingredients enough into a cohesive dough ball.
If you’ve been meh about scones, give this recipe a try; it’s a nice way to get the blues.
Recipe: Blueberry Scones
Yield: 8 wedges or 12 round scones
These scones are best the day they’re baked. Let them cool completely before enjoying with butter and jam or some homemade lemon curd. Serve for breakfast, brunch, or an indulgent afternoon snack. They also freeze well for up to 3 months.
What You Need:
Half sheet pan
Parchment paper (cut to fit half sheet pan)
Small (1 cup) microwave-safe container for melting butter
Dough scraper or chef’s knife to cut wedges or 2½” round cutter
9.6 ounces organic all-purpose or stone-ground white wheat flour
2.6 ounces fair trade organic sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼ – ½″ pieces
4 ounces organic blueberries (washed)
2.5 ounces organic Greek yogurt (full fat or low-fat)
1.5 ounces lemon juice
1 large egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon raw (demerara) sugar
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line the sheet pan with parchment paper.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, juice, and egg until smooth and well combined. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Rather than using a whisk or fork, I swirl my fingers through the dry ingredients to combine, but do what works for you.
- Add the cold butter to the dry ingredients, and using your fingertips, rub the pieces into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse meal.
Rubbing the butter in coats the dry ingredients in fat, which will give the scones a tender crumb. It’s okay if a few visible bits of butter remain.
- Add the yogurt-juice-egg mixture and berries to the dry ingredients, using a rubber spatula to combine.
The dough will be wet and sticky as it comes together.
- Flour your hands, turn the dough out onto a floured workspace, gathering all ingredients together and forming the dough into a ball.
Knead lightly, just enough to be sure that all dry ingredients are moistened and the dough comes together.
- Flatten the ball into an 8″ disk on the floured board or workspace.
The dough should be about ½” thick.
- Cut the dough into wedges or rounds. For wedges: Using a chef’s knife or dough scraper, cut the dough into 8 wedges. For rounds: Using a 2½” round cutter, cut 8 rounds. Gather the remaining dough together into a ½” thickness and cut the remaining 4.
Don’t knead or work the dough too much. Doing so will strengthen the gluten and melt the butter, toughening the dough.
- Move the cut scones to the prepared sheet pan, spacing them evenly.
Wedges: Two rows of four scones.
Rounds: Three rows of four scones.
- Brush each scone with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake for 12-13 minutes, until lightly golden brown.
- Allow scones to cool on the sheet pan for about 10 minutes, then move to a rack until completely cool.
- Serve plain, with butter and jam or lemon curd.
- Store in a closed container or ziplock bag for three days at room temperature, or freeze for up to three months.
May 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
What’s up with our weather? The recent stretch of cloudy, cool days feels like more spring in Seattle, than spring in the Bay Area. We should be well into our second heat wave by now! (I joke.) Maybe it’s this pre-summer limbo or the grey days, but I’ve been craving comfort food. Nothing as solid as the roasted vegetables or heavy soups of fall and winter, but something warm-ish, fresh, and easy to make. Something on toast, perhaps.
I know, I know, toast is all the rage now. $4 toast. Avocado on toast. Soft egg on toast. (Really, I don’t think I can see one more “genius” toast recipe.) For me, lunch or dinner on toast is old school. I grew up in a household of “things on toast” — pretty typical for my transplanted Australian family. I’m not talking about a toasted sandwich or toast-n-jam. Nope, I mean a small, filling meal with toast as the foundation, topped with something savory and substantial.
Spaghetti on toast is an Australian classic and a typical mom-doesn’t-want-to-cook meal in my house when I was a kid. Often it was a Sunday dinner kind of thing. Saturday dinners were classic roasted beast with veg, but Sunday dinners were simple and casual. Occasionally spaghetti on toast was a mid-week meal: a quick way to use up the previous night’s leftovers of that iconic Australian dish, Spaghetti Bolognese. (Yes, believe it or not, Spaghetti Bolognese is an iconic Australian dish, thanks to a post-WWII influx of Italian immigrants.) If you didn’t have any “spag Bol” on hand, spaghetti-o’s were a quick-and-easy stand-in — and actually preferred by the kids for the sweet sauce and the fun o’s.
Sick-in-bed days meant scrambled or poached eggs on toast. As soon as I could reach the toaster, Vegemite and cheese on toast was a go-to, good for a solid breakfast or fast lunch. And then of course, there’s my father’s favorite: asparagus on toast. Did you just get an image of bright green, fresh (maybe grilled) stalks, drizzled with olive oil and a dash of sea salt. Yeah, no. Dad’s favorite on-toast meal calls for canned asparagus. Why? Because you can smoosh and spread it on toast with a fork. Of course. He still gets a little boyish when he makes it. “I’m having asparagus on toast,” he’ll announce to anyone within earshot of the kitchen. You go Dad.
Recently I found myself with a few leftover cauliflower florets and not nearly enough arugula (aka, rocket lettuce) to make a salad or even a small pasta dish. But hey, if I steamed the cauliflower past the al dente stage, couldn’t I smoosh it like mashed potatoes (or Dad’s canned asparagus), mix in some olive oil, mound it onto some toast and top it with the peppery arugula leaves? Yes, I could. Plus, I’ve been crushing hard on this nutty, dense spelt bread lately, so it would be the perfect delivery device for the smashed cauliflower.
How about that: from leftover bits of produce to a fast, healthy, vegetable-based meal that’s ready in 15-20 minutes. Warm, flavorful, and with enough textures and flavors to keep your mouth interested. Genius? Nah, just good ol’ Aussie-inspired comfort food.
What’s your favorite toast-based dish? Share in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
Recipe: Smashed Caulilflower on Toast with Rocket and Radish
Yield: 1 serving (or 2 small servings, if you’re willing to share)
This quick meal is a comforting, yet flavorful way to enjoy fresh-from-the-market produce or to use up any bits of older vegetables that are lingering in your refrigerator. Mixing the smashed cauliflower with salt and olive oil gives it a creamy texture and buttery flavor. The nutty taste and denseness of the toast adds substance, while the earthiness of the arugula and peppery flavor of the crunchy radishes balances the softness of the cauliflower. You can make this recipe vegan or non-dairy by 86-ing the cheese.
What you need:
Saucepan with lid and steamer insert (2-3 quart capacity)
Fork and/or spoon
Toaster or toaster oven
6 ounces cauliflower (about 1½ heaping cups), cut into 1-1½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling on the toast
1 teaspoon chopped or snipped chives (no larger than ¼-inch pieces)
2 pieces of sturdy, nutty bread, such as spelt or sprouted grain
¼ cup chopped arugula (rocket lettuce)
1 small radish, sliced into matchstick-sized pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Thin slices of sharp cheddar cheese (I used paper-thin slices of aged raw milk cheddar; you’ll need a sharp knife to cut thin slices)
- Fill the saucepan with 1-2 inches of water (depending on where your steamer insert sits in the pan), place the steamer insert in the saucepan, cover with a lid, and bring the water to a boil.
- As soon as the water reaches a boil, turn the heat to medium-high to keep the water simmering, but not at a high boil. Place the cauliflower in the steamer insert and cover with the saucepan lid. Steam the cauliflower for 10 minutes.
When the pieces are fully cooked, you should be able to easily smash them with a fork or spoon.
- Transfer the cauliflower pieces to a small bowl and smash them with a fork or the back of a spoon. Meanwhile, make the toast.
When you start smashing the cauliflower, you’ll get something that looks like rice.
Keep smashing the cauliflower until the mixture resembles lumpy mashed potatoes.
- Add the olive oil, chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix to combine thoroughly.
- Drizzle each piece of toast with just enough olive oil to coat the top, but not soak through the bread.
- Optional: Add some umami by covering each piece of toast with a thin slice of cheese.
Think of the cheese as a condiment here. The cauliflower is the star, so keep the cheese slices thin. Keeping things vegan or dairy-free? Skip this step.
- Divide the cauliflower mixture, mounding half on each piece of toast, then spreading it out to the edges of the bread. Top with radish matchsticks and chopped arugula.
- Finish with a small drizzle of olive oil and a twist of freshly ground black pepper.
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!)
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.
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- In the other bowl or double-boiler insert, whisk the eggs until yolks and whites are well combined, adding the pinch of salt.
- 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.
- Whisk the sugar into the egg and juice mixture.
Use the same technique as you did to whisk in the juice.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Add the remaining dozen ice cubes to the prepared ice-water bath.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cover the curd with a piece of plastic wrap so that the curd doesn’t develop a “skin.”
- 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.
- Place the ice bath (with curd bowl) in the refrigerator and allow the curd to cool for 1-2 hours before serving.
- Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks.
May 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
College friends of mine get together every summer for an annual birthday party. Well, not just a birthday party. The birthday party is the capper on a week-long reunion at a low-key vacation spot (think: Bend, OR or Cape Cod, MA). What started out as a lobster-and-Freixenet dinner party in a college fraternity house (more than a few) years ago has morphed into a yearly vacation tradition that includes spouses, kids, and friends joining in for a week of hanging out, cooking together, and competitive games of bridge.
The birthday party location varies every year, switching from right coast to left to accommodate East Coasters and West Coasters equally. I attended a few of the West Coast birthday parties in the decade or so after graduating university. In the early years, most of us were just fresh out of school and settling into apartments and careers. Some of us were in serious relationships. Some were not. There were no kids, no bedtimes, and probably more cocktails than cooking. (And wine. Lots of wine.) People slept on the floor. Clothing was lost. Long-running inside jokes were born. And we ate and drank well. The food was always plentiful and fresh, especially the birthday party dinner, which consisted of a spread of seafood (lobster was the star), salad, and sides, and of course: cake.
The guys handled the organization of the event, the cooking, and the beverages. My friend Jon took on bartender duties at more than one of these events. Unfortunately, my favorite cocktail — the margarita — was not his specialty (sorry Jon). Ever the excellent host, he was willing to make it right. “You know what this needs?” he asked enthusiastically, and then without waiting for me to answer: “Orange juice!” No. No, it really didn’t. But to this day it makes me laugh to think about it. One of those small, but memorable moments from a long time ago.
Flash forward to this year’s day of margaritas: Cinco de Mayo. I’ve been thinking about revamping my standard House Margarita to create an organic version using my new favorite tequila (Casa Noble Añejo). The first idea was to replace the Cointreau, which has a heavy alcohol taste, with the organic, lower-alcohol, sweeter Greenbar Distillery Organic Orange liqueur.
Important safety tip: it’s not a one-to-one replacement when it comes to orange liqueurs. Because the Greenbar liqueur is sweeter than Cointreau, I had to adjust the acidity of the cocktail. So, then how to coax out the orange flavor of the liqueur and adjust the acidity without the lime taking over, while letting the chocolate and caramel flavors of the tequila shine through? Good ol’ trial and error.
After a few rounds of testing different amounts of lime juice and adding some rich simple syrup to balance the acidity, something was still missing: more orange flavor. So there I am on Cinco de Mayo thinking how do I add some true orange flavor and sweetness plus some acidity, without making things too lime-y? And then it hit me: You know what this needs? Orange juice. No kidding. (Thanks Jon.)
Recipe: Orange Margarita
Yield: 1 cocktail
Not your classic margarita, this one brings the orange flavor forward, while downplaying the lime and letting the unique flavor of the tequila shine through on the finish. You can vary the sweetness by increasing or decreasing the amount of rich simple syrup. For an all-organic cocktail, choose organic limes and oranges, if possible.
You’ll need a double old-fashioned or highball glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, and ice.
2 ounces Casa Noble Añejo organic tequila
¾ ounce Fruitlab Organic Orange Liqueur
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice (Tip: Zest the lime before juicing; set aside zest for Lime Salt)
¼ ounce rich simple syrup (recipe below)
For the glass:
Thin round of lime
Lime salt (recipe below)
Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons:
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons
1 ounce = 2 tablespoons
¾ ounce= 1½ tablespoons
½ ounce = 1 tablespoon
- Prepare the glass.
Pour the Lime Salt onto a small plate. Run a wedge of lime around the rim of the glass, then turn the glass upside down and dip into the Lime Salt. (You’re trying to get the salt mixture to adhere to the outer rim of the glass). Set aside.
- Combine tequila, orange liqueur, juices, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with four or five cubes of fresh ice.
- Shake 4 – 5 times (not vigorously) to combine and pour into a prepared glass.
- Float a thin round of lime in the glass for garnish.
Recipe: Lime Salt
Zest of one lime
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 250° F.
- Line a small baking tray with parchment paper. Spread the zest on the baking tray and place into preheated oven to dry for 5-6 minutes, stirring and tossing halfway through to ensure even drying.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool.
- When zest is cool, place in a small bowl. Break the zest into smaller pieces, approximately the same size as kosher salt grains, by rubbing it between your thumb and forefinger or crushing with a pestle.
You want to create something that looks like crushed — but not powdered — zest.
- Combine the crushed zest with the kosher salt.
- Set aside until you’re ready to make the cocktail.
Recipe: Rich Simple Syrup
Yield: About 6 ounces syrup
Rich simple syrup has twice as much sugar as water, resulting in a thicker syrup with more sweetening power than regular simple syrup. If you can, use organic, fair-trade sugar as it has a richer flavor than refined white sugar. Adding a few drops of lemon juice to the mixture will minimize crystallization during storage.
What you need:
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup
4 ounces sugar
2 ounces water
A few drops of lemon juice
- Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan and place on the stove top.
- Give the ingredients a stir and heat just until the sugar has melted and small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
- Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
- Refrigerate syrup in a closed container. Store up to three weeks.
April 24, 2015 § Leave a comment
Are you a kitchen experimenter or adventurous eater? I don’t mean in the Andrew Zimmern “Bizarre Foods” kind of way (although if stinky tofu or rat hearts are your thing, rock on; I’ll hold off, thanks). No, I’m talking about a willingness to try food combinations or flavors that are just a touch out of your comfort zone. Maybe that means ordering something you wouldn’t usually get from your favorite restaurant, testing out foods in à la Waste-Less Wednesday style, or that WTF moment when you throw some random ingredients together in a pan and see what happens. Thinking differently about ingredients or food combinations or preparation techniques broadens our food options considerably, and the discovery process is just plain fun — especially when you find something you want to share.
Which leads me to an inspiring reader comment about preserved lemons and feta cheese:
I’m just circling back to let you know how we used our preserved lemons. The gremolata was delicious — it fed a whole family very happily. But the biggest discovery was what happened when we combined the lemons with feta. We’ve been buying our feta from Rose International Market on Castro St. in Mountain View for 20+ years….The other day I lightly mixed a wedge of preserved lemon with a little bit of leftover Bulgarian feta and served it with crackers and lavash (also from Rose Market). The resulting spread was just heavenly. I didn’t think it was possible to improve Bulgarian feta, but I guess you never know!
Wheee! Gotta love that! “Two great tastes that taste great together.” And how did this happen? Simply putting some leftovers together for a family dinner. (By the way, thanks for sharing, Monica!) What’s the key here? Starting with ingredients that you enjoy, and saying “what if…?” Sometimes you come up with a winner, sometimes you don’t. If the combination isn’t as delicious and craveable as you’d hoped, shrug it off and try something else. (Not-so-big secret: Most professional chefs don’t nail a new recipe the first time. It’s an ongoing process of testing and tweaking over time.)
After I read Monica’s comment, I started thinking about the combination of salty, sweet-tart preserved lemons with a creamy cheese, soft cheese. Mmmm. I’ve been crushing hard on some Petaluma-made fresh ricotta lately (note to self: stop eating it out of the container). Sheep’s milk ricotta would be a nice, less salty stand-in for the feta — although cow’s milk ricotta would add a buttery richness that could play off the tartness of the lemons. I’ll save you the suspense: both versions are lick-the-bowl good. (And don’t get me wrong, the feta/lemon combo is creamy-sweet-tart mouthbomb, but if you can’t get your hands on creamy Bulgarian or French feta, fresh ricotta is a stellar partner.)
As for the lemons, you can use 7-day or 30-day preserved lemons for this recipe, although the flavors will be a bit different. The 7-day lemons give you a brighter, sweet-tart, lemon flavor, while the 30-day lemons are mellower, but have the added flavor dimension provided by the spices preserved with the lemons. Either way, if you’ve been waiting for a reason to make 7-Day or 30-Day preserved lemons, this is it!
Recipe: Fresh Ricotta and Preserved Lemon Spread
Yield: About 7 ounces
Fresh ricotta is essential here, so try to buy a locally made version — or get adventurous and make your own ricotta at home. Homemade preserved lemons are best, but store-bought will work in a pinch. A good, peppery olive oil and some crunchy, toasted pistachios are the finishing touches to this spread, adding flavor and texture. Serve with crisp crackers, lavash, or on a sturdy piece of toast.
6 ounces fresh ricotta
1½ – 2 wedges preserved lemon, to taste
1 tablespoon toasted pistachio pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Place the ricotta in a small mixing bowl.
- Finely chop the lemon wedges — skins and flesh — and add them to the ricotta, mixing gently with a spoon or rubber spatula to combine.
Start by chopping 1½ wedges and adding those pieces to the ricotta. Give it a taste. If you prefer more lemon, chop the remaining ½ wedge and add it to the mixture. Return any unused lemon pieces or wedges to the storage container.
- Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
You probably won’t need much salt, as the lemons themselves provide a good amount of salt from the preservation process, but a little accent of a delicate salt, such pyramid or Himalayan pink, can balance the flavor if your mixture is too tart.
- Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and top with toasted nuts.
- Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days.
April 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
Broccoli is a staple in my house. Exciting? No. Reliable? Yes. When I’m too tired or uninspired to cook (yes, it happens sometimes), steamed broccoli is my standby. Seven minutes from refrigerator to table. No kidding. Broccoli is a substantial partner to quick-cooking brown rice or 4-minute soba noodles. Throw in some homemade peanut sauce and shredded carrots, or pair it up with olive oil, cheese and fresh tomatoes, and you’ve got yourself a decent, healthy, homemade meal.
“Broccoli” for me, like many people here in the US, has not meant the whole plant, but rather just the crown: the collection of florets — that flower-like, dark-green part. The stems? Unfortunately, not so much. While I’m doing my best to reduce food waste at home and practice a leaf-to-stem cooking approach, broccoli stems have had me stumped. Mostly I’ve been put off by the tough, fibrous outer layer and longer cooking times. It took some experimenting and kitchen creativity, but it turns out that broccoli stems are just as flavorful and versatile as the florets.
Once you get past the tough outer layer (unless you like that sort of thing), broccoli stems are tender, herbaceous, and slightly sweet. Not only are they tasty, they’re really versatile! You can enjoy them fresh or cooked. Toss them into salads, pastas, egg dishes, or turn them into a supporting side dish. Read on for some of the many ways to use the other broccoli.
Prepping the Stems
Start by washing and drying the stems. Cut away the dried area at the bottom of the stem (just a thin slice should do it). Then using a paring knife or peeler, peel away the thin, tough, outer layer of the stems. Once you get past that tough outer layer, you’ll see a light-green, moist layer. That’s the tender, sweet, delicious part! And don’t toss those peels or dried end bits — save them for making vegetable broth. Just pop them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer until the next time you make broth.
Raw, Grated Broccoli Stems
Grated stems are the most versatile way to use this part of the broccoli plant. Use grated stems much as you would shredded lettuce, cabbage, or even sprouts:
- Top a salad or sandwich
- Quick saute with onions and garlic for an omelette filling
- Combine with brown rice, olive oil, sea salt, tomato, and fresh mozzarella
- Toss with soba noodles, shredded carrots, tofu or chicken, sesame oil, crushed red pepper, and soy or tamari sauce
So many possibilities! If you have a food processor with a grating disk, you can make quick work of grating broccoli stems, although a box grater will do the trick, too (just watch your knuckles). Four medium-sized stems will yield about 1½ cups of shredded broccoli. Store in the refrigerator in a closed container.
Another way to use freshly grated broccoli stems? Combine ’em with olive oil, garlic, toasted pine nuts, a smidge of lemon juice, and cheese to make a broccoli pesto!
Need a recipe? Start with the Carrot-Top Pesto recipe and make these easy modifications:
- Substitute 1 heaping cup of grated broccoli stems for the carrot greens (or 1¼ cups if you prefer a thicker pesto)
- Squeeze out excess liquid from grated broccoli
- Add ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice when you add the olive oil
- Optional: Substitute roasted garlic cloves for fresh for a less intense garlic flavor
Use the pesto as a sandwich spread, dip, or pasta sauce.
Oven-Roasted Broccoli Stems
Roasting vegetables is a great way to reduce food waste. When you oven-roast root vegetables or brassicas — broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, for example — that might be a bit old or limpy, the cooking process brings out their earthy sweetness while maintaining the flavor and nutritional value.
My favorite oven-roasting technique for dense vegetables like broccoli and carrots comes from The Stone Edge Farm Cookbook by John McReynolds. Rather than expose the vegetables directly to oven heat for the entire cooking process, you cook the vegetables covered for half the time, which prevents them from drying out. If using oven-roasted stems as a side dish, plan on one stem per person (assuming stems are 1-1½” in diameter), less if you have additional side dishes.
Ingredients for roasting:
2 – 4 cleaned and peeled broccoli stems
1 – 1½ teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 4 garlic cloves
What you need:
Glass baking dish
For finishing oven-roasted stems:
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
¼ finely grated fresh lemon zest
½ – 1 tablespoon toasted pecans or sliced almonds
Optional: roasted garlic cloves
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Meanwhile, prepare stems as described above in “Prepping the Stems.”
- Cut stems into quarters.
Each “spear” should measure about ½ inch across the base.
- Toss spears with olive oil in the baking dish, ensuring that spear is coated. Season with salt and pepper.
- Optional: You can roast several garlic cloves at the same time as roasting the broccoli stems. Pull 4 large cloves from a head of garlic. Do not remove the papery skin covering the cloves. Place the cloves in a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle them with olive oil, then fold the ends of the foil together. Place the packet of garlic cloves in the corner of the baking dish.
- Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, remove the foil and using tongs, turn each spear over. Return the baking dish to the oven.
- Continue baking for 20-25 minutes or until spears are fork tender.
- Remove garlic cloves from foil and allow to cool slightly before peeling skin away.
- Allow spears to cool slightly before plating, then top with a sprinkling of fresh lemon juice, feta cheese, lemon zest, toasted nuts, roasted garlic cloves, and salt and pepper to taste.
Do you eat broccoli stems? How do you prepare them? Share your tips in the comments below.
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.
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 scordo.com.) 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.
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
- 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.
- Using a fine zester (Microplane or box grater), zest the lemons.
Reserve naked lemons for other uses.
- 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.
- 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.
Suggestion: Label the jar with today’s date. A piece of masking tape and a Sharpie should do the trick.
- Create an alert on your calendar for four weeks from now so that you know when to dilute the infusion.
Yield: About 1½ cups
8 ounces fair-trade, organic sugar
8 ounces filtered water
- 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.
- 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)
- Line the funnel with several layers of cheesecloth and place it in the mouth of the clean jar.
- Pour the infused alcohol and zest into the funnel, straining the zest from the liquid.
- Squeeze all liquid from the cheesecloth into the jar.
- 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!
- Age your final mixture for a week, then transfer to the final storage bottle or container. Store in refrigerator or freezer. Serve chilled.
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?