Monthly Archives: March 2014

When Life (or Costco) Gives You Lemons, Part II

Ahhhh, limoncello!

I made my first batch of limoncello, a couple of years ago. It was good but I felt it could be better. So it’s off to the internet to search for recipes. Most of the recipe differences came down to how many lemons to use and how much simple syrup to add at the end. I settled on combining recipes from Bell’alimento and Lidia’s Italy.

This project began two months ago with the zesting of the lemons and then using the now naked lemons (before they could go bad) to make Faye’s famous lemon tart.

Zesting lemons

The vodka for the limoncello was recommended by the man at the liquor store – he said the potato vodka was the best. Not having any experience with vodka, I took his word for it.

Zest in vodka

Add the vodka to the bottle with the lemon peel, shake gently to mix, place in a cool, dark area – and then wait.  For a month.  That was February.

At the end of February I made the simple syrup, let it cool and then added it to the vodka bottle. Shake gently to mix with the other ingredients – and then wait.  For another month.

Finally, at the end of March I strained the liquid and bottled the limoncello. It is a lovely clear yellow color and tastes great.

Bottled Limoncello

But I did not quite think through how I was going to get all those lemon peels out of the vodka bottle. I finally used a wooden skewer and my finger to get them all out.

It seems a shame to throw all those vodka infused lemon peels out. Hmmm, there must be something I can do with them.   I’ll keep you posted.

Limoncello

750 ml potato vodka
10 lemons – peeled
3 c sugar
4 ½ c water

Wash and pat dry the lemons. Use a vegetable peeler to zest them, making sure to omit the white pith. (The pith makes the limoncello bitter.)

Stir the lemon peels into the vodka in a glass bottle or jar. Cover, and keep in a cool, dark place for 30 days. (There is no need to stir or mix the liquid.)  When it is ready, the liquid will smell strongly of lemon rinds and be a deep-yellow color.

At the end of the month, bring water and sugar to a boil and boil for 5 to 7 minutes; let cool.

Add sugar syrup to the vodka and lemon zest, stir, and let rest for an additional 30 days, to let the flavors further mellow and blend with the sugar syrup.

Strain the limoncello through a moistened cheesecloth or coffee filters. Discard the lemon zest, pour the strained limoncello into your choice of bottle, and seal tightly.

Note: Limoncello is best served chilled. Bottles can be kept in the freezer.

Adapted from Lidia’s Italy.

Does That Ring a Bell?

Handbells on table

I’m a bell ringer.  You may have never heard of bell ringing.  You may not even know what I’m talking about.  Let me explain it for you.  I ring English handbells.

It all started in 1991.  The church I went to was given a 3 octave set of handbells in the summer of 1990.  In the Fall, the handbell director started a youth bell choir.  Then in January, he started an adult choir.  Not knowing anything about how to play them, I signed up!  I’ve been playing ever since.

I still remember the first time we rang in church.  My knees were shaking so hard, I thought I would fall down.  But we made it through whatever song it was.  And it got easier each time.

A few years later, four of us decided we would form a quartet.  Music is specifically written for ensembles and the quartet music was divided so that each ringer knows which bells to play when – the four of us needed to share ringing 3 – 4 octaves.  Once again, not knowing anything, we chose a song based on the fact that we knew it and we liked it.  We later figured out that we spent 68 hours practicing that song before we rang it in church.

Over time the church acquired 5 ½ octaves of bells, three octaves of chimes, mallets, a bell tree, special bell tables, bell table covers, bell table carrying cases and a cart to help us take all this stuff to various locations.  We’ve rung at numerous churches, the prison, the juvenile detention center, symphony hall, senior citizen centers, hotel lobbies, Christmas parties, private homes, for the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas, funerals and weddings.

One of our favorite events was the annual “Bell Sunday” we presented.  The bell choirs (adult, youth, and quartet) organized and rang the whole service.  If you ever wondered how hard it is to pull off a Sunday worship service, it’s hard!  Choose a topic, choose scriptures to go with it, choose music to go with it, arrange for the children’s sermon, ushers, acolytes, liturgist, AV slides and a script for the AV booth.  And we particularly learned how hard it is to accompany the congregation while they sing.

We even have our own lingo:  better never than late; they don’t write music you can’t play; recover, recover, recover; farm that bell out.

All this just means I’ve been ringing for 23 years – 14 of those years in two choirs.  We’ve all gotten a lot better, learned many techniques,  been to bell camp, played with 200 other ringers at Spring Ring, and generally had fun.

Bell Choir

When we moved, I thought that was the end of my bell ringing.  I handed over my music and gloves, found a replacement for the quartet and figured I wouldn’t be able to find a new bell choir.

Thank goodness for the internet.  I found Sardis Presbyterian – and they needed a sub.  One ringer was visiting her daughter in India so I stepped in for her.  When she returned, another ringer said she would not be available to play May 4, so I stepped in for her.  I guess I shouldn’t mention to them that the thing I am worst at is sight reading. So far it’s working out.

Once again, I’m a bell ringer.

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

Several years ago my sister and I spent two weeks in Paris (sigh!).  Absolutely everyone one we talked to said we had to visit Angelina’s Tearoom and have hot chocolate.  And so, on a sunny fall day when we had left the Louvre, we strolled down to 226 rue de Rivoli to Angelina’s.

Angelina's Tearoom

When you enter the Tearoom, you go by the bakery case.  This is a good opportunity to see which pastry you might want to order.  Oh, dear, such delicious looking choices.  We sat down and ordered hot chocolate, a dark chocolate éclair and a lemon bar.

Angelina's tea cup

And boy were they right.  Their hot chocolate is like drinking a chocolate bar.  A really good chocolate bar.  Topped with whipped cream.

After we came home I wanted to re-create this hot chocolate, and recipes for Angelina’s hot chocolate are everywhere.  But most of these require you to have heavy cream and lots of chocolate bars on hand.  That’s OK for a special occasion, but I wanted something I could keep on hand – a mix.

Hot chocolate recipes abound on the internet.  Some say it doesn’t matter what kind of chocolate you use (I beg to differ) and others either add powdered milk or make their mix with water.  No, not what I’m looking for. And I believe you should use the best ingredients you can.  I once heard Mario Batali say that the quality of your meal is fixed once you buy your ingredients.

I use Valrhona cocoa and the best chocolate I can find.  Sometimes it is Scharffen Berger baking bars, sometimes Valrhona bars from Trader Joe’s.  Use whatever kind you like – but the darker, the better.  And try to avoid using chocolate chips.  Manufacturers must add other ingredients to make the chips hold their shape – you don’t want that in your food.

Scharffen Berger bar   Valrhona bar

After much research and a couple of test recipes, I have one I love.  Make it with any kind of milk and I guarantee you will love it, too.

This also makes a great gift.  This recipe makes a LARGE quantity of mix so you’ll still have plenty left over for yourself after you give lots away.  Just put in a jar and attach a label with instructions on how to prepare.

Next, I think I need to test homemade Kahlua marshmallow – a recipe for another day.

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

Makes about 60-70 servingsCup of hot chocolate

2 vanilla beans
4 c granulated sugar
1 ½ lbs. dark chocolate (72% cacao), coarsely chopped
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate (80% cacao), coarsely chopped
2 c cocoa
3 T instant espresso powder

Split and scrape vanilla beans and place in a large bowl or jar with the sugar. Work seeds into the sugar with your fingers and bury pods under sugar. Cover tightly and let stand overnight (or up to months –vanilla sugar keeps forever) at room temperature.

In a food processor fitted with metal blade, process semisweet chocolate and dark chocolate until finely ground, using 4-second pulses.  Chop chocolate by hand first if in large blocks.  Process in batches, if necessary.  (I added some of the sugar to the chocolate to help break it down.)

Remove vanilla pods from sugar. Add ground chocolate, cocoa powder and espresso powder to sugar and whisk to blend, making sure to combine well.

Store mix airtight at room temperature for up to six months.

To serve, whisk two heaping Tablespoons of mix with 8 oz. of milk and heat until steaming (about 180˚) over medium heat.

Adapted from Confessions of a Foodie Bride

Strawberry Freezer Jam

I’ve been making strawberry freezer jam for many years.  When we lived in upstate New York, there were truck farms everywhere and we often picked our own strawberries.

So I was surprised when I was talking with a friend in Utah about using some of my homemade jam.  She said she didn’t make jam because it was too hard.  “Oh, no,” I said, “freezer jam is really easy.”  That’s when she said she had never heard of freezer jam.  What?   I am always surprised when someone doesn’t know about something I’ve done for years.  I figure if I know about it, so does everyone else.

To make any kind of jam or jelly, you need pectin.  I use Sure-Jell.  There are two kinds – one uses sugar (yellow box) and one uses reduced sugar or artificial sugar (pink box).  I like the one that uses sugar.

Strawberries

There are also several recipes to choose from on the box insert.  You can choose from cooked jam, cooked jelly, freezer jam or freezer jelly.  Make sure you use the right recipe because the amount of fruit and sugar varies among the recipes.  And yes, I know this from personal experience.

The beauty of freezer jam is that
1. it isn’t cooked so the fresh fruit flavor stays in the jam,
2. you don’t need to have a canner to seal the jars, and
3. you can make the jam the texture you like.

You can also use either fresh or frozen fruit.  This batch was made with frozen strawberries but I usually use fresh.  Either gives a good result.  I’ve also mixed fruit, once using about half raspberries and half strawberries.

Package insert

Be sure to follow the directions on the box insert carefully.  Proportions are important.  If you add too much fruit, you will end up with something more like syrup than jam.  But that is good on waffles or pancakes, so it’s more in how much you care about it being exactly like jam.

These instructions are taken from the package insert.  Be sure to check all instructions against that.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

2 cups of crushed strawberries (about 2 pints)Jars of jam
4 cups sugar
1 pkg. Sure-Jell

Prepare enough glass jars with lids to hold 5 cups of jam.

Mix crushed strawberries with sugar in glass bowl. (I use my potato masher.)  Stir well.  Let sit 10 minutes so that sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.

Add one package of Sure-Jell and ¾ cup of water to a small saucepan.  Bring to a rolling boil stirring constantly.  Boil and stir for one minute.

Stir pectin mixture into strawberry mixture, stirring for 3 minutes to combine.

Ladle into prepared jars leaving ½” of space on top.  Let jars sit on counter 24 hours.  Store in freezer.  Keep refrigerated once you defrost it.

Taken from the Sure-Jell insert.

Five Grain Loaf Bread

When I was first married, I decided it was time to make bread, something I had always wanted to do.  First stop, the book store to get a “bread” book.  I looked through the offerings and chose one based solely on the layout – each recipe was laid out by how much time it took to do each step.  It was perfect for someone who had never made bread before.

I took it home and read the beginning chapters where the author talked about kinds of flour, techniques and how to make yeast breads.  I proceeded to make cinnamon rolls and they turned out really well – surely beginner’s luck.  Over time I tried other recipes and continued to have good results.

Complete Book of Breads

I have used this book for years and only much later realized my book, The Complete Book of Breads, was authored by an award winning baker – Bernard Clayton.  My 1973 edition is out of print but a new edition was published in 2008 right before he died.

My loaf bread recipe began with Clayton’s “Rich White Bread” on page 86.  I doubled this recipe to four loaves and made it for years.  When I decided to add whole wheat flour, I played with the amount and ended up with 3 cups – ¼ of the flour in the recipe.  This was enough to give a whole wheat taste, but not enough to adversely effect the texture.

Then I was watching an episode of America’s Test Kitchen and they added an oatmeal cereal to their whole wheat bread to give it a better chew.  I added one cup of Bob’s Red Mill “5 Grain Cereal”, reducing the whole wheat flour to two cups.  There is also a seven grain and nine grain cereal but there’s a big difference.  The one I use looks like oatmeal flakes; the others look like grits.  I really didn’t like the texture of the bread made with the grit product.

Bob's Red Mill 5 Grain Cereal

So, here’s my recipe for four loaves of bread.  I probably make this about once a month.  It is important that you not add too much flour.  The dough continues to absorb  water as it rises.  It’s easy to add more flour if it is sticky, not so easy to add more water.

These loaves make great toast, French bread, bread crumbs, sandwiches – whatever you would use bread for.  And it freezes really well.  I hope you enjoy it!

Loaf Bread

1 cup 5 or 7 grain hot cerealLoaves of bread
2 cups boiling water

2 cups whole wheat flour
8 cups bread flour
3 cups water (120˚)
2/3 cup powdered milk
2 Tablespoons instant yeast
4 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons sugar
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

Measure cereal into mixer bowl.  Pour boiling water over and stir to combine.  Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Add 3 cups bread flour, water, yeast, milk, salt and sugar.  Using paddle attachment mix to combine.  Add butter.  Mix 4 minutes.

Switch to dough hook.  Add 2 cups whole wheat flour and 2 cups bread flour.  When incorporated add flour 1 cup at a time.  Dough should pull away from sides of bowl but stick to bottom.  Knead 5 minutes.  If mixer will not hold all of the flour, knead by hand.  Dough should be tacky but not sticky.

Form dough into ball.  Place in large greased bowl top side down, then flip over.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Rise 1 hour.  Punch down and turn over.  Re-cover and rise 45 minutes.

Turn dough out onto work surface dusted with flour.  Knead briefly.  Divide into 4 even pieces (I use a digital scale).  Form loaves by rolling each piece into log being sure to have skin of dough as top.  Pinch seam and place seam side down in greased 8.5” x 4.5″ loaf pans.  Cover and rise 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 400˚.  Bake loaves 30-45 minutes until brown and bottom of loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

Remove loaves from pans and cool completely on wire rack.  Freezes really well.