Weekend Cocktail: Orange Margarita

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.)hero-1

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.

Ingredients:

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)

Start your weekend off right: Five ingredients to a fresh Orange Margarita

Start your weekend off right: Five ingredients to a fresh Orange Margarita

For the glass:

Lime wedge
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

How to:

  1. 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.
  2. Combine tequila, orange liqueur, juices, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with four or five cubes of fresh ice.
  3. Shake 4 – 5 times (not vigorously) to combine and pour into a prepared glass.
  4. Float a thin round of lime in the glass for garnish.hero-2

Recipe: Lime Salt
Ingredients:

Zest of one lime
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

How To:

  1. Preheat oven to 250° F.
  2. 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.

    Fresh lime zest, ready for drying

    Fresh lime zest, ready for drying

  3. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  4. 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. 
  5. Combine the crushed zest with the kosher salt.
  6. 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:

1-quart saucepan
Rubber spatula
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup

Ingredients:

4 ounces sugar
2 ounces water
A few drops of lemon juice

How to:

  1. Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan and place on the stove top.
  2. Give the ingredients a stir and heat just until the sugar has melted and small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
  4. Refrigerate syrup in a closed container. Store up to three weeks.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Strawberry-Orange Compote

May 6, 2015 § 1 Comment

When was the last time you took a good look inside your freezer? Do you know what’s living in there, under the frozen peas and ice cream? For many of us, the freezer is like a hall closet for food. We just keep shoving stuff in there until one day it all comes tumbling out, and we finally have to decide to pitch or keep that frozen mass of … what was that again? And how long has it been in there?

One way to keep a handle on what’s going into your freezer — and how long it lives there — is to label freezer items with the “date in.” All you need is a Sharpie and some freezer tape. For each item that goes into the freezer, take a minute and write the current date on a piece of freezer tape. (Add the name of the item, too, if it’s packaged in an opaque or unlabeled container, freezer bag, or layers of foil. ) Affix the tape to the item, and voilà. No more guessing games about how long that foil-wrapped thing has been wedged behind last week’s ice cream and under last year’s frozen pizza.

I’ve been a labeler since culinary school. All good, right? Yes and no. The followup to labelling is, that you have to — every few months — take a look at what’s actually living in the freezer. If you focus on a mostly fresh-food diet, then you might not be digging into the freezer that often. I use my freezer as a place to preserve foods — breads, summer fruit that I want to enjoy later in the year, stocks and broths, and vegetable scraps for said stocks and broths. In short, it’s place to store food until I get around to doing something with it. Problem is, often out of sight, out of mind. Hence the need to check in every few months.

Given that we’re into the first week of May already, summer garden vegetables and u-pick fruit are on their way. Unfortunately, I still have last year’s overages of backyard apricots and Swanton Berry Farm strawberries taking up most of my freezer. Sheesh. (Ok, so I’m not so good at the every-few-months check-in.) So while most Waste-Less Wednesdays have focused on ways to reduce waste by rescuing or repurposing what’s in front of you — in the refrigerator or on the countertop — let’s not forget about what’s going on in the freezer.

So, let’s say you’ve got an excess of freezer fruit. What to do? While freezing fruit often maintains most of the flavor, the texture is another story. Soft fruits like berries and apricots don’t bounce back so well when thawed, which means they’re ideal for smoothies or cooked fruit dishes. A simple way to enjoy previously frozen fruit? Make a compote. While it might sound fancy, the making part is easy. A compote is fruit cooked in liquid with sugar added for sweetness. Perfectly delicious on their own, compotes can also dress up Greek yogurt, elevate waffles and pancakes, or add a touch of decadence to your favorite ice cream.

DIY fruit yogurt: swirl in your own homemade compote

DIY fruit yogurt: swirl in your own homemade compote

So, start digging through your freezer. If you’ve got last year’s frozen berries — or store-bought frozen berries will do in a pinch — you can have a tasty, homemade fruit compote in about 15 minutes.

Recipe: Strawberry-Orange Compote
Yield: About 8 ounces

This recipe omits the water to produce a chunkier compote, and (bonus!) is a great way to use up one of those packets of orange zest you might have lingering in your refrigerator. Delicious warm or cold, you can enjoy this compote on its own (or with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream) or as a complement to a variety of other treats. Serve it warm or at room temperature with cakes, waffles, rice pudding, or pancakes. Serve cool over ice cream or yogurt.

Ingredients

12 ounces frozen strawberries (previously washed, dried, and hulled)
1½ – 2 ounces organic sugar (to your taste)
1 heaping teaspoon fresh orange zest

Yes, you can make a beautiful compote from just three ingredients!

Yes, you can make a beautiful compote from just three ingredients!

What You Need:

Rubber spatula
2-quart saucepan
Small plate
Small glass or ceramic bowl or dish (to hold up to 10 ounces)

How to:

  1. Combine the sugar and berries in the saucepan and place it on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally so that the berries cook evenly and don’t stick to the pan.
    After about five minutes, the berries will begin to soften and release their juices, combining with the sugar to make a syrup.

    Berries getting juicy and starting to soften

    Berries getting juicy and starting to soften

  2. Use the tip of the spatula to break the berries into smaller, bite-size pieces.
    Don’t worry about creating even-size pieces.
  3. Continue cooking until the syrup thickens and berries are soft and in pieces, about 10 minutes.
  4. Check the consistency of the compote by taking a small spoonful of the syrup from the saucepan and putting it on the plate. Place the plate in the freezer for about 20 seconds, just enough to bring the temperature down.
  5. Retrieve the plate from the freezer and run your finger or the tip of the spatula through the syrup. If the gap closes quickly, continue cooking the compote for a minute or two, testing it again for doneness. If the gap closes slowly, the compote is ready.

    Mind the gap: this compote is ready!

    Mind the gap: this compote is ready!

  6. Taste the small sample from the plate and adjust the amount of sugar, if neccessary.
    If you’d prefer a sweeter compote, stir another teaspoon of sugar into the hot compote until fully combined. Taste a cooled sample of the compote to determine whether you need to add any more sugar.
  7. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the orange zest.
  8. Transfer the compote to the glass or ceramic dish (Pyrex is a good choice), cover with plastic or parchment paper, and place in the refrigerator to cool.
  9. Serve cold or rewarm gently in the microwave before serving.swirl-yogurt-2
  10. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Eat Local: Howie’s Artisan Pizza in Redwood City

May 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

The Redwood City restaurant boom continues with this week’s opening of Howie’s Artisan Pizza. Taking over the old Tarboosh spot on Jefferson Avenue, Howie’s brings chef/restaurateur Howard Bulka’s casual pizza concept to the mid-Peninsula. Bulka, former chef/owner of the (now closed) Marche Restaurant in Menlo Park, opened the first Howie’s Artisan Pizza in November 2009 in the Palo Alto Town & Country shopping center. The Palo Alto Howie’s has done well with steady business, particularly on weekends and throughout the summer when it packs out with local families.

Think of the Redwood City location as “Howie’s 2.0” — an expansion of the Palo Alto concept, according one staff member. The new space echoes the casual feel of the Palo Alto location, but has more outdoor seating, with the large side patio area that’s set up for year-round dining. About half of the patio area is covered, but tables in the open area have umbrellas to shade diners from the summer sun. For chilly days (or evenings), overhead heaters provide warmth. The interior of the restaurant is large and casual with front doors that open completely, bringing the outdoors in and giving the restaurant an airy feel. Seating is at individual tables or the long bar, which runs the length of the dining room.

What is new in the Howie’s concept is a full bar program that not only includes beer and wine, but also handcrafted cocktails. Howie’s Bar Manager, Ryan, is ramping up the cocktail program slowly, presenting an approachable menu of classic cocktails with contemporary twists. For the house Mai-Tai, Howie’s bartenders muddle fresh almonds with Demerara sugar to elicit an aromatic, fresh almond flavor that plays beautifully with the dark rum.

Can't get to the beach? Take a tropical break with Howie's Mai-Tai.

Can’t get to the beach? Take a tropical break with Howie’s Mai-Tai.

Ryan’s Pisco Punch is a take on the classic Pisco Sour (pisco, lemon juice, sugar, and egg white) that uses house-made pineapple gomme syrup. And then there’s The Heat of Passion, which had me at hello. Don Julio Reposado tequila, passion fruit and lime juices, along with a hint of Calabrian chili. ‘Nuff said.

In The Heat of Passion in the 650: Sweet, tart, and just enough spice

In The Heat of Passion in the 650: Sweet, tart, and just enough spice

And this is just the start. Plans are in the works to add seasonal cocktails, infusions, and housemade bitters and tinctures.

Cocktails not your thing? The beer menu includes about a dozen craft beers on tap, most from around California. Craving a Bud Lite or classic PBR? Yeah, they’ve got that, too. The wine list has something for just about everyone, from crisp whites that will be perfect sipping on warm summer days to fruity, rich reds to pair with red-sauce pizzas. (Although white wine drinkers might prefer to see a few more white wine choices, including a by-the-glass option for the lovely Flowers Chardonnay.) Of course, non-alcoholic options, including soft drinks, are available as well.

With drinks squared away, you’ll be ready to move on to the food menu, where comfort food is the theme. While pizza is the main draw, the food menu also offer small plates/appetizers, meal-sized salads, and sandwiches (listed as “Burgers and Such”). Not sure what to get? The servers are knowledgeable and happy to offer suggestions and tell you about items unique to the Redwood City menu, such as the small plates Eggplant Pillows and Burn Your Fingers Shrimp.

The Eggplant Pillows are long, thin slices of roasted eggplant rolled around a dollop of fresh, housemade ricotta cheese and topped with salsa verde. Tempting, but I opted for aptly named Burn Your Fingers Shrimp. Six large cajun-spiced peel-and-eat shrimp are served sizzling hot with melted, browned butter in small skillet, along with two pieces of toasted bread for mopping up the extra browned butter.

Messy, spicy, buttery, delicious. But definitely not first-date food.

Messy, spicy, buttery, delicious. But definitely not first-date food.

Moving on from Small Plates, you’re likely to skip right on over to the Pizza section of the menu. (I’m not saying you should, but Howie’s is a pizza joint, after all.) What makes a “good” pizza is a completely subjective thing. For some people, it’s all about the toppings. For others, it’s all about the crust. If you’re a crust fanatic, Howie’s falls somewhere between a Neapolitan and New York style pizza. Crispy on the bottom, this is no cracker-like crust; it’s got some depth and chewiness, thanks to a sourdough starter. The crust is sturdy enough to stand up to meat and vegetable toppings, and there’s an even balance between toppings and crust.

Toppings are fresh, and you can choose from the nine classic combos, or come up with your own. House favorites include the Margherita (red sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil), Sausage and Peppers, and Arugula and Prosciutto.

It's a complete meal: Arugula and proscuitto with fresh mozzarella and a hint of creamy garlic sauce on the base

It’s a complete meal: Arugula and proscuitto with fresh mozzarella and a hint of creamy garlic sauce on the base

If you don’t feel up to consuming a full-sized pizza on your own, Howie’s offers a smaller Petitz’a, which is their individual-size pizza, for about half the price of a full size. Any pizza on the menu is available as a Petitz’a.

Sharing with someone else and can’t decide between two favorites? You can get a full-sized half-and-half pizza for a small upcharge ($1). (Half-and-half is not available in the smaller, Petitz’a size.)

Can't decide on just one? How about a half-n-half: Sausage & Peppers and Margherita.

Can’t decide on just one? Try this half-n-half: Sausage & Peppers and Margherita.

If you’re eating light and opt for a salad, know that Howie’s salad plates are substantial — plenty for a meal or to share if you’re also splitting an appetizer or a pizza. Among the five salad choices are classics, such as Mixed Greens and Caesar. You can add grilled chicken to any salad for an upcharge.

If you’re pizza-ed out or just looking for something different, check out the Burgers and Such section of the menu. Options include a variety of sandwiches from the Howie’s Burger (pepper jack cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, pickle, and of course, a secret sauce) to a classic grilled cheese with marina sauce for dipping (perfect for the kids). Non-meat and vegetarian options are available, including a Caponato Melt with eggplant, peppers, onions, zucchini, olives, mozzarella, fresh basil, and parmesan.

Phew! If you’ve still got room for dessert (you go!), Howie’s does offer a few home-style, comfort-food choices: Banana Cream Pie, Seasonal Fruit Crisp for Two, and a Cookie Plate. Servers tell me the Banana Cream Pie is a good bet, but I’ll have to report back on that at a later date.

This is the closest I've gotten to dessert at Howie's Artisan Pizza

This is the closest I’ve gotten to dessert at Howie’s Artisan Pizza

Although Howie’s “opened quietly this week,” as Bulka put it, it’s not likely to stay quiet for long. Bulka and staff are chatting with customers, taking suggestions, and tweaking things to, as Bulka put it, “get it right.” They’re definitely on their way. With a casual vibe, comfort-food menu, plenty of seating, and central Redwood City location, this could be your new mid-Peninsula spot.

Have you visited the new Howie’s Artisan Pizza in Redwood City yet? Share your experience in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Details
What: Howie’s Artisan Pizza
Where: 837 Jefferson Avenue, Redwood City, CA 94063
Phone: 650-391-9305
Hours: 11:30am-2pm and 5–9:30pm daily
Parking: Street, garage, and public lots (pay)

Waste-Less Wednesday: Front-End Solutions

April 29, 2015 § 2 Comments

Did you happen to catch the film “Just Eat It” on MSNBC last week? The 74-minute documentary, produced and directed by Canadian filmmaking couple Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer, examines the topic of food waste from field to table in North America. If you missed it, here’s a taste. (For more information about the film and additional screenings, check out the website.)

Just Eat It – A food waste story (Official Trailer) from Grant Baldwin on Vimeo.

No boring facts-and-figures, talking-heads approach, this film chronicles the couple’s adventures and reactions during their six-month project to give up grocery shopping and live solely on reclaimed food. That’s right, from asking for out-of-date products and ugly vegetables at the supermarket to outright dumpster diving at wholesale food-supply locations, they not only eat, but eat well for duration of the project. (Spoiler alert: They don’t actually eat food scraps, but rather reclaim perfectly good packaged food discarded by food businesses, such as distributors and grocery stores.)

The film intersperses the couples’ experiences in acquiring food with eye-opening details direct from farmers and food-waste educators about how and where food waste occurs all along the food supply chain. Most staggering fact? 40% of all food, from farm to factory to table is wasted — left in the field, considered unsaleable by grocery stores, and just plain thrown in the garbage. Cameron Anderson, Harvest Manager for grower Pacific International says in the film that 20-30% of food grown is left in the field. Why? It’s a two-part issue: supermarket specifications for produce and customer expectations about appearance.

Just Eat It – Field Waste – Cauliflower (Deleted Scene) from Grant Baldwin on Vimeo.

Supermarkets refuse otherwise perfectly fresh and edible produce because it doesn’t meet specifications for size or beauty. And customers support this approach by seeking out the perfect produce. How many times have you passed by bruised apples or weird-looking squash? (Confession: I’ve done it.) Even farmers’ markets, generally known as a good source of fresh and local food, aren’t immune. In the film, one market supplier points out a lone bunch of greens at his stand, saying that it won’t sell because customers think there’s something wrong with it if there’s only one left.

In terms of what we buy and take home, Dana Gunders, Project Scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says that 15-25% goes to waste. (I first heard these statistics from Dana during CUESA’s “Beyond the Green Bin” panel talk last year.) Putting that in practical terms, she says it’s like “buying four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot, and leaving it there.” How does it happen? We over-estimate what we need, don’t use food before it spoils, throw away packaged or canned food because we’re not clear about what “best by” dates really mean, and so on.

Putting a dollar value on it, $165 billion worth of food is lost or thrown away annually in the US. And yet, approximately 17% of all Americans struggle with food insecurity, which means that at some point during the year, about 54 million people lack a reliable source of food. (Bringing it home, food insecurity in San Mateo county is close to 12% of our population.) At a macro level, we need a way to transfer that $165 billion of unnecessary food waste to those who lack a steady source of nourishment.

Wasted food is a waste of resources, which, when you think about it translates to even more dollars lost: the labor, water, and supplies that go into producing that food. Given our worsening drought conditions here in California, wasting food will have an even higher cost.

Food waste, then, can seem like an overwhelming and insurmountable problem. Indeed, social media reactions during the film included surprise, guilt, and anger at the amount and cost of waste. But knowledge is power, and as Maya Angelou said:  “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Films like “Just Eat It” and panel talks like CUESA’s “Beyond the Green Bin,” provide the information we need to “do better.”

So while I’ve posted about ways to reduce food waste on the back end — using, salvaging, or preserving what you already have — let’s talk about ways to get ahead of food waste on the front end, before you’re making that “toss or keep” decision.

Be a Man (or Woman) with a Plan
Before you head out to the grocery store, take a quick inventory at home. What food staples do you need? What are your go-to foods for those quick weekday meals and how much do you have on hand? Having a plan before you get to the market or grocery store will not only save time, but also means that you’ll reduce the possibility of impulse buys or “just in case” purchases. (On that same note: don’t shop hungry.)

Planning ahead will also leave you some leeway for those unexpected dinners out or nights when you’re just too tired or overwhelmed to cook and pizza is on speed dial. Which leads me to why it’s a good idea to shop “European-style”: buy smaller quantities and shop more often.

Shop Euro-Style
Time is a limited resource, so many of us try to consolidate a week’s worth of food shopping into one trip. Believe me, I get it. However, what that means is we’re often overbuying and unable to use produce (some of which has a very short shelf life) before it starts to fade. If you’re wasting food because you’re trying to save time, and that wasted food has a cost beyond what you paid for it at the grocery store, what are you really saving?

Consider purchasing enough food for about a few days at a time and commit to using it up before shopping again. Your food will be fresher, and you’ll use more of it. Maybe you visit the grocery store once a week for proteins and packaged goods and the farmers’ market on the weekends for produce. Find something that works for your schedule and lifestyle. Don’t have time to get out? Sign up for a CSA delivery (or choose one that drops off at a central point in your neighborhood) or a broader delivery service like Good Eggs.

Make a List
Make a list of perishable items to use first and keep it on your refrigerator. For example, delicate herbs, salad greens and tomatoes have short shelf lives and should probably at the top of your “use first” list. You can also use this list as a place to jot ideas for recipes you want to make and ways to use up certain produce items.fridge-list

Take It Home
Dining out and takeout/delivery contributes to food waste in a couple of ways. As I mentioned above, it’s often the reason we don’t get through all of the fresh food purchased from the grocery store or market. But restaurants are also giving us large portion sizes — often more than most people can eat in one sitting.

Consider taking home whatever you don’t eat during the meal. More often than not, I can get at least one more meal out of restaurant leftovers, sometimes two. Or you can use the restaurant leftovers to create a new meal using what you have at home. Case in point: I recently ordered vegetable biryani (rice dish) from my favorite Indian place. Talk about value for money — I had enough biryani for three days’ worth of meals! Indian cooking is not in my skillset, but with the biryani as the foundation, I added my own steamed vegetables and protein to create some deliciously spicy dishes and saved myself some cooking time.

Food waste is not an insurmountable problem and changing how we shop for, store, and cook food can make a huge difference. How are you working to reduce food waste on the front end? Do you shop “Euro style”? Designate a place in the fridge for “use first” items? Share your ideas in the comments or on our Facebook page!

Recipe: Fresh Ricotta and Preserved Lemon Spread

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.

Ingredients

6 ounces fresh ricotta
1½ – 2 wedges preserved lemon, to taste
1 tablespoon toasted pistachio pieces
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Fresh sheep's milk ricotta, olive oil, 30-day preserved lemons, toasted pistachios

Fresh sheep’s milk ricotta, olive oil, 30-day preserved lemons, toasted pistachios

How to:

  1. Place the ricotta in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Finely chop the lemon wedges — skins and flesh — and add them to the ricotta, mixing gently with a spoon or rubber spatula to combine.
    Add chopped perserved lemon to the ricotta

    Add chopped perserved lemon to the ricotta

    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.

  3. 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.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and top with toasted nuts. spread-in-serving-bowl
  5. Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days.

Waste-Less Wednesday: The Other Broccoli

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.

Beautiful, fresh broccoli

Beautiful, fresh broccoli

“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.

If you don't like the fibrous outer layer of broccoli stems, peel them first, and save the peels for vegetable broth

If you don’t like the fibrous outer layer of broccoli stems, peel them first
and save the peels for vegetable 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.

Light green, sweet, and crunchy: shredded broccoli stems

Light green, sweet, and crunchy: grated broccoli stems

Broccoli-Stem Pesto
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!

Rich, flavorful Broccoli Stem Pesto

Rich, flavorful Broccoli-Stem 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.

Recipe
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
Tongs

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

How to:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Meanwhile, prepare stems as described above in “Prepping the Stems.”
  2. Cut stems into quarters.
    Each “spear” should measure about ½ inch across the base.
  3. Toss spears with olive oil in the baking dish, ensuring that spear is coated. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. 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.
  5. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.
  6. After 25 minutes, remove the foil and using tongs, turn each spear over. Return the baking dish to the oven.
  7. Continue baking for 20-25 minutes or until spears are fork tender.
  8. Remove garlic cloves from foil and allow to cool slightly before peeling skin away.
  9. 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.
Oven-roasted Broccoli Stems: topped with roasted garlic, lemon zest, toasted almonds, feta cheese

Oven-Roasted Broccoli Stems: topped with roasted garlic, lemon zest, toasted almonds, feta cheese

Do you eat broccoli stems? How do you prepare them? Share your tips in the comments below.

Eat Local: Redwood City Restaurant Week

April 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

I love a good food story, particularly when it comes to the hows and whys of food producers doing what they do. Whether we’re talking about small-business foodcrafters, farmers, chefs, or restauranteurs, the “why” often comes down to two things: a love of food and a desire to share what you make or grow with your community.

From farmers’ markets to salsa competitions to food-and-wine tastings, the 650 has no lack of community-based food events where food lovers can connect with local producers. Add to that list this year’s inaugural Redwood City Restaurant Week, April 23-29. That’s right, the mid-Peninsula locale formerly known as “Deadwood City” for its long-time lack of entertainment and dining options has experienced a major revitalization, including a now-vibrant dining scene. Redwood City has its own food story to tell: it’s a growing city with a diverse array of ethnic cuisines, not to mention Michelin Bib Gourmand picks and OpenTable Diner’s Choice Award Winners.

During the recent kickoff party for Redwood City Restaurant Week, I had a chance to chat with local restauranteurs and event participants, Manuel Martinez and Diane Cusimano, about the city’s changing dining scene and what this upcoming event means.

Redwood City Restaurant Week kickoff party at LV Mar on April 16

Yours truly chatting with Diane and Renato Cusimano (at the bar) during the Redwood City Restaurant Week kickoff party at LV Mar on April 16

Cusimano and her husband Renato, long-time Bay Area restauranteurs who lived in Atherton for 25 years, saw the potential in Redwood City almost a decade ago. It was Renato who viewed Redwood City as the Peninsula’s “next big thing” and opted for a spot on Main Street for their Deseo Tequila Lounge. Six years since opening the lounge and not quite a year since adding Palermo Italian Restaurant, they’re happy with their decision and have a loyal clientele.

Cusimano pointed out that the “diversity in cuisine” is one of downtown Redwood City’s strengths. Indeed, Restaurant Week participants run the gamut of global cuisine from American to Persian. Whether you’re an expat wanting to experience a taste of home or Bay Area local wanting to try something out of your comfort zone, there’s a restaurant for that. There’s also an opportunity for Redwood City’s restaurants, many of which are family-based businesses, to tell the story of their native cuisines and culinary passions. In the Cusimanos’ case, Deseo allows them to express Renato’s passion for tequila, while Palermo focuses on the cuisine of his native Sicily.

Chef/owner of La Viga and LV Mar, Manuel Martinez, spoke about using a variety of Latin ingredients — not just those of his native Mexico — as the inspiration for the menus he creates.

Chef Manuel Martinez of La Viga and LV Mar in Redwood City

Chef Manuel Martinez of La Viga and LV Mar in Redwood City

“The food and drink — everything we do here tells a story.” This philosophy extends to LV Mar’s new cocktail program, implemented just within the past two months. Ask Chef Manuel about the mezcals and tequilas on the bar’s wall, and there’s a story there about quality ingredients and traditional production methods. “We’re working hard to have a great food and drink menu that has character and means something.”

Both of Martinez’ spots have garnered a strong following from diners around the Bay Area during the past three years, not only for the story his food tells, but also for the warm service and friendly atmosphere. While Martinez’ restaurants have received recognition from Michelin Bib Gourmand and OpenTable, they aren’t the only award winners in Restaurant Week’s lineup. Angelica’s, Crouching Tiger, Donato Enoteca, Downtown, and Portobello Grill are also Michelin Bib Gourmand and/or OpenTable Diner’s Choice Winners.

Chatting with other attendees at the kickoff party, there was a sense of pride and camaraderie about what Redwood City has to offer food lovers, and Restaurant Week is about getting the word out. Diane Cusimano emphasized that “we have great restaurants here, and it’s time for people outside Redwood City to recognize that.” Martinez echoed the Cusimanos’ belief in Redwood City’s bright future for food: “Restaurant Week is all about the fact that things are changing and Redwood City is great.”

Here’s a quick preview of just a few of the entrees you can experience during Redwood City’s Restaurant Week:

  • Housemade fresh Dungeness crab ravioli (Palermo Italian Restaurant)
  • Grilled Pork Loin in Guajillo Adobo Sauce with White Bean Ragout and Pork au Jus (La Viga)
  • Vegetable Tower with layers of Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Spinach, Eggplant, served with flavorful rice and a saffron yogurt sauce (Arya Global Cuisine)

If you’ve never dined out at a restaurant week event, think of it as a get-to-know-you eating opportunity. Each of the 14 participating restaurants have created an affordable three-course prix fixe menu that highlight some of their favorite dishes. Set menu prices range from $20-45 per person, depending on the restaurant’s cuisine, for a selection of appetizer, main course, and dessert. (Fine print: tax, tip, and beverages not included.) For detailed menus and restaurant profiles, check out the Redwood City Restaurant Week website. Of course, restaurants will be offering their regular menus as well.

While I’ve certainly got my go-to spots in the city known for having a “Climate Best by Government Test,” Restaurant Week is motivating me to hit up those places I’ve been meaning to try. Have you dined in Redwood City lately? Which restaurants would you recommend?

Waste-Less Wednesday: 5 Easy Waste-Less Tips

April 15, 2015 § 2 Comments

Reducing food waste at home is easier than you might think, and doesn’t have to involve projects like preserving foods or making soups. (Although these are definitely fun ways to reduce food waste and discover new recipes at the same time!) There are some simple things that you can do every day that will help you use up more of the food that lingers in your refrigerator — and keep it out of the trash. Check these 5 Easy Waste-Less Tips!

Zest Citrus First
Before you peel an orange for snacking or squeeze a lime for that margarita, zest the fruit first. Even if you don’t have an immediate use for the zest, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Create a parchment packet for storing citrus zest until you need it

Create a parchment packet for storing citrus zest for future use.
Orange sorbet, anyone?

Create a zest “packet” using a small piece of parchment paper, approximately 4″ x 4″. Fold the paper in thirds horizontally, then vertically. Unfold the paper, then place the zest in the center “square” of the paper. Refold the parchment paper, nestling the zest inside. You can add a piece of tape to keep things closed, if you need to. Place the packet in a plastic bag and press all of the air out before sealing the bag. Store in a crisper drawer.

Keep Skins and Scraps for Stock or Broth
Before you peel root vegetables, take an extra minute to give them a good scrub and dry them off. After peeling and cutting off any end bits, put the peels and bits in a sturdy plastic bag and store it in your freezer for adding to soup stocks and broths in the future.

My collection of sweet potato peels from the past two weeks

My collection of sweet potato peels from the past two weeks, ready for the next
batch of Spring Vegetable Broth

(Note: If you’re eating sustainably and source your food from local, organic or pesticide-free farms, you shouldn’t need to give your vegetables an intense washing. A quick scrub should clean things up. However, if you’re purchasing conventionally grown vegetables, or don’t know whether pesticides were used on your food, you might want to skip this tip.)

Make Herb Salt
It’s tough to estimate exactly how many leaves of a fresh herb you’ll need to chop to end up with just the right amount for a recipe. I don’t know about you, but I often overdo, ending up with an extra teaspoon or two. Rather than tossing out that extra little bit, scoop it into a small bowl and add some salt (to your taste, but start with an equal amount of salt to herb). The herbs will dry out in a day or so, but you’ll have a quick herb salt ready to season the next dish you make. Sprinkle it on pasta, salad, or a baked protein.

Chopped too much parsley? Make a quick herb salt to use later.

Chopped too much parsley? Make a quick herb salt to use later.

When Life Gives You Bread Bits, Make Breadcrumbs
I’ve been crushing on this tasty spelt sourdough loaf lately. It’s dense and nutty and makes a sturdy toast that pairs nicely with homemade Blood Orange-Rosemary Marmalade. It’s a small loaf, however, which means that sometimes the end bits are just that — bits. You know, not substantial enough to be a real piece of bread, but you don’t want to throw it away?

Collect the heels and bits from your favorite loaf of bread in a resealable plastic bag, and when the time comes, you can use them to make breadcrumbs. (You can also freeze the bread bits until you’re ready to make breadcrumbs. Make sure you thaw the bits before toasting or processing for crumbs.)

Drying out the end bits from a loaf of bread

Drying out the end bits from a loaf of bread

Making breadcrumbs is as simple as toasting the bread bits on a foil-lined sheet pan in a 250° F oven for 25 minutes, then pulverizing them into crumbs in a food processor. You can toast the bits first, then process them, or vice versa. Recommendation: if using a dense bread (such as spelt) make the crumbs first, then toast.

Sauté Radishes and Tokyo Turnips
You can only make so many salads before you start craving another way to enjoy radishes and Tokyo turnips. If you’re looking for another way to prepare these intriguing root vegetables, try sautéing them. Cooking them over medium-high heat until browned changes their texture from crisp to tender, amplifies the sweetness, and highlights their earthy aroma. (Yes, sautéing is my go-to solution for “old” vegetables. Why? Because it works so well!)

Sauteed Tokyo turnips with fresh parsley

Sautéed Tokyo turnips with fresh parsley

Quick technique: Wash, dry, and trim the radishes or Tokyo turnips. Cut larger turnips or radishes (1½” in diameter) into quarters. Cut smaller vegetables in half. Heat 1½ teaspoon of olive oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and sauté for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add another teaspoon of olive oil to the pan and stir again. Reduce heat to medium and cover the pan with a lid. Continue cooking for 8-10 minutes, until radishes or turnips are browned, fragrant, and fork-tender. Season with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley.

Know What You Throw Out
In addition to the tips above, here’s a suggestion to help you get a handle on the food waste from your kitchen. If you have a countertop compost bin, take a look inside before you unload it into your green bin. What are you throwing out every day, every few days, or every week? Can you reduce that further by using some of these plan-head tips or adopting a leaf-to-root approach to eating?

If you don’t have a countertop compost bin, try this experiment: Put a medium-size on bowl on your counter. Use it as a countertop compost bin — a place where you toss any food or food bits that you would usually throw in the trash.

Several days' worth of food waste headed to the compost bin: soggy lettuce, a moldy lemon, and a few overly roasted carrot tops

Several days’ worth of food waste headed to the compost bin: soggy lettuce, a moldy lemon, and a few overly roasted carrot tops

If things start to get a little gross or stinky, cover it with a lid or some plastic wrap until full. How does it look after one day? After two days? How long before the bowl is full? What can you repurpose, freeze, preserve, or cook differently to reduce food waste?

Are you using any of these waste-less tips? What tips can you share for reducing food waste at home?

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?

Lemons
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.

Aging
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

Ingredients:

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
Funnel
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: Fava Leaves, Hold the Chianti

April 8, 2015 § 3 Comments

Waste-Less Wednesday posts are all about ways to reduce or eliminate food waste, particularly at home. Most of the posts to date have focused on creative ideas for using more of the food that comes into your kitchen, especially fruits and vegetables. We’ve looked at ways to repurpose carrot greens, enjoy a glut of backyard citrus, and even a savory way to use up too much homemade peanut butter.

Reducing food waste at home means getting creative and thinking outside our standard diet choices. Whether you simply love food, consider yourself a food geek, or are even just a tiny bit adventurous when it comes to trying new recipes, the experience can be a lot of fun!

But there are other points in the food chain where we, as consumers — as eaters — can help reduce food waste in our local food system. Again, it goes back to rethinking what and how we eat. If you shop farmers’ markets or get a weekly CSA box, these are great sources for test-driving new foods. I’m seeing some creative ways that farmers are reducing food waste from field to market by selling whole plants (e.g., carrots with greens attached) or assorted greens that extend beyond a few kinds of lettuce. Case in point: fava leaves from Happy Boy Farms, available by the bag at the Saturday San Mateo Farmer’s Market.

Fresh fava leaves from the San Mateo Farmers' Market

Fresh fava leaves from the San Mateo Farmers’ Market

Fava leaves grow at the top of a fava bean plant, are 2½-3 inches long with pointed ends, dark-green in color, and velvety soft to the touch. Available mid-to-late spring, they’re not only edible, but are a surprising delight.

Texture-wise, fava leaves are a bit sturdier than spinach, and yet they seem more delicate. Inhaling their scent is like smelling a stash of freshly picked beans from a grassy field. And the flavor? Fresh, uncooked leaves taste sweet and herbaceous, with a slight hint of bitterness. Cooking the greens brings out their sweetness, along with a delicately nutty flavor component.

So once you get your bag of fresh fava leaves home, what can you do with them? Just about anything that you would do with spinach: create a salad, add to egg dishes and pastas, top bruschettas and pizzas. Where to start when pairing fava leaves with other flavors? Think Mediterranean. Some suggestions to mix and match:

  • Citrus: Lemon, grapefruit, or orange
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Herbs: Mint, Thyme, or Dill
  • Pepper: Black pepper, Crushed red pepper
  • Soft or crumbly white cheeses: ricotta, goat, feta
  • Hard cheeses: aged manchego, pecorino, parmesan

Following are some suggested dishes for fava leaves. Hopefully they’ll inspire you with ideas for creating your own dishes, made to your taste. As always, feel free to make adjustments for your diet and palate. If you want to 86 the cheese, replace oranges with grapefruits, or add some sriracha, do it!

Salad: Fava Leaf and Spinach Salad with Orange, Smoked Mozzarella, and Toasted Pecans
For a little leaf variety in your salad, consider pairing fava leaves and spinach. The textures are just different enough to create interest, and the leaf flavors work well together. Dress the leaves with olive oil and a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice, then season lightly with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Fava Leaf and Spinach Salad with Orange, Smoked Mozzarella, and Toasted Pecans

Fava Leaf and Spinach Salad with Orange, Smoked Mozzarella, and Toasted Pecans

Top with orange segments, toasted pecan pieces, and ½-inch chunks of smoked mozzarella. (Want to make it vegan? Substitute smoked tofu for the mozzarella.) The combo of herbaceous leaves with the sweetness of the orange and slight smokiness of the cheese is craveable. Toasted pecans add just the right amount of crunch to balance the soft cheese and leaves.

Switch it up: Substitute ruby grapefruit pieces for oranges, toasted cashews or pepitas for pecans, and goat cheese for smoked mozzarella.

Pasta: Soba Noodles with Fava Leaves, Hot-Smoked Salmon, and Preserved Lemon
Soba noodles are so versatile; they’re my go-to pasta! (Plus, the cooking time is super short: 4 minutes.) They’re sturdy enough to stand up to most “toppings,” and the flavorful earthiness dances well with so many partners — from sweet to salty to smokey, with a dash of umami thrown in.

Soba Noodles with Fava Leaves, Hot Smoked Salmon, and Preserved Lemon

Soba Noodles with Fava Leaves, Hot Smoked Salmon, and Preserved Lemon

For each serving of this dish, toss soba noodles with chiffonade fava leaves, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and matchsticks of perserved lemon rind (thinly slice the rind of approximately 1 preserved lemon wedge). Top with about 2 ounces of hot-smoked salmon. Finish it off with a sprinkling of fresh thyme and a grating of hard cheese, such as aged manchego or asiago.

Note: Serve this dish should at room temperature or slightly cool. I assembled it by pulling all ingredients from the refrigerator — including leftover soba noodles. If you’re making the noodles the same day that you make this dish, be sure to rinse the noodles in cold water until cool.

Switch it up: Substitute fresh, grilled salmon for the hot-smoked salmon — or try cold-smoked salmon. Make it vegan by substituting tofu or roasted cauliflower for the salmon (and 86 the cheese). Substitute goat cheese for hard, grated cheese.

Brunch: Poached Egg and Sautéed Fava Greens on Toast with Feta
Sauteing fava greens softens them a bit, accents the sweetness, and brings out a slightly nutty flavor component. Because fava leaves are sturdier than spinach, they don’t wilt as much when heated, providing a nice nest for your poached egg.

Put an egg on it: Poached Egg and Sautéed Fava Greens on Toast with Feta

Put an egg on it: Poached Egg and Sautéed Fava Greens on Toast with Feta

To prepare this quick-and-easy dish, chiffonade 1½ cups of fava leaves and saute them in 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat for several minutes until wilted (seriously, 2-3 minutes oughta do it). Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, make the poached egg and toast a sturdy piece of bread (go for a rustic sourdough or spelt bread). Brush the toast with olive oil, then top with the sautéed fava leaves, then the poached egg. Garnish with crumbled feta cheese, crushed red pepper, and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.

Switch it up: Substitute sriracha for the crushed red pepper (squeeze small dollops on the plate or the egg). Replace feta with goat cheese.

Have you tried fava leaves? How do you prepare them? Share your ideas in the comments below or on our Facebook page.