Lovely Limoncello

My hubby and I come from a long line of amateur wine and liquor makers. My dad ferments wine in his garage (and has for as long as I can remember) and the other day offered us a taste of some homemade coffee liquor my aunt had been storing for over 30 years (it was delicious!). We don’t have the room to make wine (no garage and the basement is too packed with stuff) but we do want to make our own contribution to the family liquor cabinet. So after some trial and error and some translating Italian the following is my hubby’s recipe for Limoncello which we bottled (see photo above) and handed out as Christmas gifts this year:

24 lemons

3 liters grain alcohol (must be grain, vodka doesn’t work)

3.25 liters of water

2 liters simple syrup

Yield: 22 bottles (375 ml each) – see note about quantity below

Remove the fragrant zest of the 24 lemons in large strips (be sure not to include any of the white pith) and place into a large glass container (if doing in multiple smaller containers try to evenly distribute the zest). Fill container with the 3 liters of grain alcohol, cover it and place in a cool dark place to steep for 6 weeks.

After the 6 weeks are up remove the skins and add 3.25 liters of water and 2 liters of simple syrup to the lemony alcohol and mix well.  You are now ready to bottle!

Refrigerate before serving (you don’t have to do this but it tastes better cold) and enjoy as an after dinner drink on its own or as I like to – a splash in your espresso.

NOTE: For a smaller batch the ratios of grain to water to sugar are really what matter so here is the ratio: 6 grain, 6.5 water and 4 simple syrup.

Easy Oven Roasted Brussel Sprouts

This is by far one of my favorite ways to have brussel sprouts and thankfully it’s also the easiest preparation as well.  Every once in a great while I get a hankering for brussel sprouts and let’s be honest, it’s hard to make them really tasty, right? I’ve previously done some recipes where you go through the tedium of removing all the leaves of the sprout and saute that with some apple cider vinegar and some panchetta. It’s tasty but not terribly healthy and it takes close to nine years to trim the sprouts. This preparation is super fast and my husband and I can consume a whole tray of these ourselves. Haven’t subjected the baby to them yet but we did discover he’s a huge fan of Philly cheesesteaks over the holiday so I’m pretty excited. He eats most every other veggie so once he gets some teeth these will be on the plate.

I prepare this using fresh sprouts. I suspect you could do it with frozen but would likely take longer to make.

1 dozen medium sized fresh brussel sprouts

1 Tbs olive oil

Generous pinch of salt & pepper to taste

Sprinkle of cider vinegar (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take sprouts, cut bottom off and remove any leaves that fall right off when you trim the bottom and cut the sprout in half lengthwise. Rinse the sprouts and then place them on a cookie sheet. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, making sure the sprouts are well coated with the oil. Place the spouts all cut side down on the cookie sheet and if you want a little extra tang, sprinkle them with some cider vinegar. Place in the preheated oven and check after about 15 minutes to see if they are starting to brown.

You may see the outer leaves really get brown, and if that’s the case, turn your oven down to 375 and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until the sprouts are all fork tender. The outer leaves, especially any loose ones, may end up crispy and they are my favorite part!

I served this with some chicken cutlets prepared like the turkey cutlets in this recipe.

Stuffed Zucchini with Fresh Cherry Tomato Sauce

We are doing a farm share again this summer, only this time it’s a full share and we’re actually doing a semi-decent job of getting through it each week before it goes bad. Only a few casualties. It helps that we didn’t get weeks worth of greens and lettuce this year, it has been much more diverse of a vegetable selection. The past few weeks we’ve had a fair number of zucchini, and so I’ve been trying out some recipes before I take the remainder of the zucchini and puree it for my son. One recipe I’ve worked on has been zucchini cakes – kind of like a fritter – but haven’t quite gotten the right combo yet. This recipe I tried tonight was a winner though, so I am sharing it here. We stuffed the zucchini with a lamb mixture, and the sauce is a pint of cherry tomatoes (mostly yellow, with a few of the purple ones we are growing thrown in) cooked down and de-skinned:

For the Zucchini:

2-3 fat zucchini (or any sort of summer squash will work)

1 lb ground lamb (you can use pork or veal or even beef)

2 small eggs

1/3 cup breadcrumb

1/3 cup grated parmesan

1 onion, sliced thin

1 large garlic clove, sliced thin

2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

salt & pepper

olive oil

For the Sauce:

1 pint cherry tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

3 tablespoons olive oil

5-6 leaves of basil

salt

For the zucchini, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a saucepan over medium heat add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the sliced onion and garlic. Saute until the onion is soft and lightly browned, stirring often. In a bowl combine the lamb, breadcrumb, cheese, thyme (just the leaves), chopped parsley, eggs, and the cooked garlic & onion mix. Add a generous pinch of salt a pinch of pepper to the mixture and make sure it is all well combined. Set aside.

Take the washed zucchini and cut in half lengthwise – try to make the halves as even as possible. Take a spoon and remove the insides of the zucchini. I just removed the softer seedy portion and left most of the flesh inside so it would make a nice secure boat for the meat. Sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on the inside of the hollowed out zucchini and place it onto an oiled cookie sheet. Fill each half with a generous portion of the lamb mixture.

Place the zucchini into the oven and bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until the meat is well browned. If you check and the meat is not cooked through, you can cover the tray with a piece of tin foil and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes to be safe.

For the Sauce:

Take a small saucepan over medium heat and add olive oil and garlic. Brown garlic lightly, and then add the cherry tomatoes and the basil and cook down until the tomatoes are soft and the skins are easily removed. If you start it when you place the zucchini in the oven, the sauce will be done by the time the zucchini is. I remove the skins from the sauce once they are loose because I find them hard to digest (mmm..TMI!) but you can do whatever makes you happy.

To serve just spoon the sauce over the stuffed zucchini and enjoy!

A Word on Meatballs and the Resulting Chicken Meatloaf

I have been absent a long long while. And boy have I missed the blogging. I had a baby (boy) in early March and that has eclipsed my free time and basically every other time in between and so I am just now starting to come up for air. Figures that I need to go back to work in 2 weeks. Not a whole lot of quality cooking going on since the bubs arrived but I did stumble upon an accidental improvement to my meatball recipe which I am pleased about. This applies to any sort of meatball too – in fact I was attempting to make chicken meatballs and this is what happened… sorry no photo this time, but I do hope to get back to a semi-regular posting schedule soon. And by soon I mean some time before my son turns 1.

This recipe is essentially a meatball recipe which ended up turning into a chicken meatloaf instead. I was going to make some snacks to go along with the yummy mint juleps we were sipping for the Kentucky Derby  and I thought chicken meatballs would be an interesting alternative, but the chicken sort of broke down and I added an extra egg and viola! SUPER-moist and tasty chicken meatloaf:

1 lb ground chicken (dark meat is better)

1 small onion chopped small

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 eggs

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

2-3 sliced of bread soaked in water

pinch of salt

3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take onion and garlic, lightly salted and saute in the olive oil until soft and lightly browned. I find that cooked garlic and onions adds another dimension of richer flavor versus just adding them raw to the mix. Let the onions and garlic cool slightly. Take the bread and squeeze out the extra water and add it to the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. I like the bread a little chunky and will use whatever we have laying around (rolls, white bread, wheat, egg, etc). You could use breadcrumb instead but I couldn’t tell you what amount to use.

Add the cooled garlic and onions and mix thoroughly. If you can do this in advance and allow the mix to “marinate” in the fridge for an hour or two that is good but it will be fine if made immediately as well.

Pour mix into a loaf pan (I used a glass one but I presume metal would work fine) and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and the meat thermometer reads 180 degrees.

The extra egg and the bread soaked in water (you could also use milk) are what make this meatloaf extra moist, and the cooked onion and garlic add that extra kick to the flavor.

I eat mine with a little lemon spritzed on it, but it would be great with some tomato sauce or salsa, or a brown gravy if that’s what you prefer.

My First Jam Session – Onion Rosemary Jam

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Pregnant or not, I’ve never been much of a jam eater. I haven’t got anything against jam, but it’s usually too sweet for me (yes, the person who can shotgun a box of Nerds thinks jam is too sweet) but I am sort of fascinated by the more savory variety. They make excellent additions to any cheese plate or sandwich or even just smeared on an english muffin atop some laughing cow cheese (which is what I had for breakfast today). The recipe and idea for this one came from Serious Eats, which is a really great foodie blog with all sorts of angles on the whole food thing. The best part of this recipe is that it is relatively easy, with many ingredients we had already in the house (always appealing to us lazy folk). I followed the recipe mostly to the letter but the timing listed definitely did not work out for me. I am outlining my notes below as I went through it as this is really a great recipe and worth trying but for those of you who are jam novices like me, some things to consider.

Here is the recipe.

I used a heavy enamel pot for this so that I could fit everything in and also have a shot at not scorching the whole bit and ended up with a ruined jam and worse, a ruined pot. I also started out with probably closer to 4lbs of onions. This could have been mistake #1.

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The recipe calls for 15-20 minutes of heavy sweating in the pot for the onions, rosemary, bay leaf, olive oil and salt in the pot with the lid on. Turns out it really should have been more like 25-30 minutes to really get the onions nice and soft. We’ll call this mistake #2. I think this was probably THE key mistake as the final product was a little too chunky with the onion and while still very, very yummy, it just had too much texture to it. So then I added all the vinegars, etc:

DSC_1111As you can see from the picture the onions are still pretty raw and not as soft as perhaps the original recipe intended. I also (let’s call this mistake #3) upped the vinegar/wine content to account for the additional onions I used but didn’t increase the sugar or honey. Mostly I did that because as I said in the intro, I hate really sweet jams. But I also suspect this meant I short-changed myself in that gooey jammy consistency at the end with too much liquid and not enough sugars to convert to that texture we all associate with jam. Additionally, it took way longer than 15-20 minutes to get the liquid to reduce by half (more like 30-45 minutes) at which point the bay leaf and rosemary were removed and we got to this stage:

DSC_1112I kept going for another 40-45 minutes before the liquid was gone and we got basically down to the consistency which is in the very top photo above. I placed it in sterilized jars, closed them and allowed them to cool before I placed them in the fridge.

The end result, as I said, was still very good and I’d happily try again with some of the things I learned on this go round and it stores for a good 2 months – longer if you follow through with the full canning process of boiling the full jars.

Toasted Butternut Squash Seeds

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So I’m about 5 months preggers now and my desire to consume food still remains bafflingly (is that a word?) mechanical versus being something I get excited about doing. The desire to make elaborate meals (or even easier ones) and then blog about it is just not there. But every once in a while I do still get a whim for something different and this was one such weekend. We had been getting CSA veggies all summer which has been phenomenal and last week was the last delivery. The last few weeks have included some delicious butternut squash which I have been busily roasting and consuming. One of the things I like to do when I have a good sized squash is to take the seeds out and roast them as you would with pumpkin seeds. The squash seeds are smaller than traditional pumpkin seeds but can be boosted by spices to flavor them up nonetheless. Here is a quick recipe which would also be good with pumpkin seeds. The measurements are not in technical terms because it depends upon the amount of seeds you harvest. I had about 1/2 cup of seeds which I placed in a salt water solution (1Tbsp salt to 1 cup water) while I cleaned and chopped the rest of the squash:

Generous pinch of garlic powder

Generous pinch of dill

pinch of sea salt

Light drizzle of olive oil

Take the seeds out of the salt water – mine sat in there maybe 15 minutes – you can leave them in for a while but I wanted to consume them ASAP so I drained them as well as a could and laid them out on a sheet of tin foil atop a baking pan. The oven was set at 375 so I could roast the actual squash while the seeds also cooked. I spread the seeds out in as flat a layer as I could and then added the olive oil. Just enough oil to lightly coat each seed so that the seasoning sticks to it. Then I sprinkled the garlic salt, dill and a touch of sea salt and laid the whole thing in the oven to cook. You should check the seeds every 5-6 minutes and give them a little stir so that they get brown all over. It took about 15 minutes or so for the seeds to get light brown all over and to be nice a dry and crispy.

There are many spice options that would work nice for this – maybe some chili powder or curry powder. It’s good to experiment and see what you can make with this tasty little snack.

Cavatelli From Scratch – My I-talian Sunday

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As an Italian American I am very (almost obsessively) fond of pasta. Especially the freshly made kind. I’ve shared my ravioli and gnudi making adventures in other posts and now I have embarked on a cavatelli adventure as an experiment. I’m hoping to recreate today’s success for my dad (who was born in Italy – Soveria Manelli) on his birthday because he so appreciates these kinds of things, probably even more than I do. For the un-initiated, cavatelli are almost like gnocchi but they’re made from ricotta and a lot of flour, and they have the effective sauce-catching divet in the middle (see photo above) whereas gnocchi are more like little pillows. Though versatile, I really prefer cavatelli served with a hearty meat sauce because this pasta is built to stand up to that kind of task. The homemade version is hardy without being heavy and makes for a really good Sunday meal.

Making cavatelli is easy but very labor intensive. I definitely wouldn’t attempt to make them on your own because it’s a lot of work, but this makes an excellent family bonding activity even if, like me, your family currently just consists of you and your hubby. I imagine a future time when I can do this with the help of the little bun that’s in my oven and my hubby (and a bottle of wine) and lots of good music playing.  But I digress…

The recipe I used is here and it is an excellent one, with step by step instructions and photos. My hat’s off to the author as I didn’t need to modify a single thing. The recipe makes close to 2lbs of cavatelli.  I found that working with the dough in very small pieces was easiest, and everything had to be floured and re-floured, etc, as the dough is a bit sticky.  I used a cheese knife instead of a pastry cutter:

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DSC_1104The important thing is that the utensil you use for shaping the cavatelli is somewhat sharp-edged and metal – the plastic pastry cutter we have didn’t work. We allowed the cavatelli, well floured, to rest and dry out on cookie sheets for at least an hour and then half went into the fridge in a ziploc for dinner and the other half is in the freezer. It took roughly 3 full minutes for the cavatelli to cook and the result was magnificent. We made a simple tomato sauce with lamb sausage simmered in it and topped the finished dish with some grated parm. Heaven.

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