Yum Peaceful Cooking: July 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Limoncello and a Strawberry Lemon Drop to pass the time

Limoncello is one of my favorite liqueurs. But it's a little pricey depending on the brand you buy. And let me tell you....brand makes a huge difference. I've tried a few. One of them was just awful. If I had tried it the first time I ever had limoncello, I would never try it again. Ya, it was that bad.

Anyway...I'm not here to recommend what brand you drink or like...I'm here to show you how to make it yourself. It's not difficult. The most challenging part is getting the skin off the lemon without getting any of the pith (the white stuff) and of course waiting for the end results. Yes...it is time intensive. It's not cheap either. But it is less expensive than buying it from the store. I figure approximately 2/3 the cost (kinda like a "buy 2 get 1 free" sorta thing). Although I did get my lemons for free, which helped.

I've heard a lot of talk over the years about various methods and scientific measuring based on the alcohol used vs the simple syrup added. Rather than letting it intimidate me...I just went ahead and did it. One of my best foodie friends, DeeDee showed me a website that has great information, which is where I went to for all the how-to's and what-for's: Limoncello Quest They have enough information to keep me out of trouble but not too much as to make me shy away from the experience. I have to admit here....they recommended straining the alcohol before beginning the process. I didn't do it.

Here's a little basic info on the two main ingredients:

Smooth skinned lemons are recommended. Thick skins help. Organic is best (less time spent scrubbing the pesticides and wax off and most likely having some still end up in your alcohol). For me, I chose to zest the lemons rather than peeling them. I'm not good enough at peeling without ending up with a lot of pith on there. Besides, peeling is very time consuming. Whats the issue with pith? Bitter. You do not want to end up with bitter results and pith will do that.

There are two proofs out there: 151 (75.5% ethanol) and 190 (95% ethanol). California only sells the 151 proof so I went with that. Just an FYI...Vodka is 80 proof (40% ethanol). There are those out there that think they'll just use Vodka. I wouldn't. If you can get Everclear...do it. For
more info look it up on Wikipedia: Everclear

To start off, you will need:

1 gallon jar with a tight fitting lid
2 - 750ml bottles of Everclear (pure grain alcohol)
17 lemons

Thoroughly scrub your lemons in warm water with a vegetable scrubber. Carefully zest them, making sure you do not zest down to the pith.

Combine the lemon zest and the alcohol in your 1 gallon jar.

Put the jar away in a cool dark place for 45 days. You don't need to do anything. Leave it alone. Forget about it. It might be helpful to put a sticker on the jar with the date you started to help you keep track of time.

Now you have a whole bunch of lemons that are going to dry out in no time. All that lemon juice. Time to start squeezing and freezing

You won't need it for the Limoncello, but you don't want to waste it either. Make lemonade. Or even better, make a drink

Strawberry Lemon Drop
2 parts vodka
1 part lemon juice
1 part simple syrup
a few strawberries

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish the edges of your glass with a little sugar and a strawberry. DELICIOUS!!!

Back to the Limoncello....fast forward 45 days (and lots of Strawberry Lemon Drops later) you will need:

3 1/2 cups white sugar (do not use brown)
5 cups of water

Combine sugar and water in a pot and bring to boil. Allow to boil, stirring once or twice for 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool completely then add to your lemon zest and Everclear mixture. Stir


Aaaaand put it away. Again. For 45 more days.

Shhhhh....don't whine and complain. It's worth it. Use the time to find a few cool bottles to put your freshly made liqueur into.

Once the final (yes, I said final) 45 days are up....it's time to get busy. Using a strainer, strain out the zest.

Then line the strainer with a coffee filter and strain again (you can strain it a few more times if you'd like...I was too lazy that day and only did it once through the coffee filter.)

Pour into bottles and store in the freezer. Not because it has to be in the freezer...but because Limoncello tastes best extremely chilled.

I had bought my favorite store brand to compare

On the left is mine...the right is from the store. The big test.....the taste. There is a HUGE flavor difference. The store bought product tastes more like lemon heads (that lemon drop candy), its a lot sweeter and it appears to have some yellow dye in there. Although it is good. With the homemade version...you can taste the fresh lemons. The sweetness doesn't hit you over the head. It's smooth and refreshing. If you had to compare it in a nutshell...its like comparing homemade lemonade to powdered lemonade mix.

Yes it worth it!! Especially if you have an abundance of free lemons to play with.

Want another cocktail recipe? Check this one out:

Strawberry Limoncello
1 cup frozen or fresh strawberries
3 TB simple syrup
3 TB lemon juice
1 cup limoncello
1 cup club soda

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree. Pour into chilled glasses. Garnish with lemon slices and strawberries.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dulce de Leche Banana Cream Pie

Dulce de leche, banana and peanuts.....'nuf said.

Ok, so I do have more to say (come on, you oughta know me better than that by now).

You know how when you "think up" a great combo in flavors, then you google it and of course it's already been done. A gazillion times over. Ya well....it happens to me all the time. I never get to think up anything new and original.

But that doesn't ever stop me from making it and enjoying it and loving it. Especially this pie. It's no-bake and easy peasy. Perfect for summer. Or anytime when you don't want to turn on the oven. You can even let the kids make this. Of course, you'll end up with a sticky mess in the kitchen...but hey, that's half the fun when you're a kid, right?

This particular recipe was found on FoodNetwork, courtesy of Marcela Valladolid and can be found here: Dulce de Leche Banana Cream Pie. I did make a few very slight changes and omissions. You can compare the two if you'd like and do what you want. (that's what I love about cooking....making it your own)

Dulce De Leche Banana Cream Pie
Printable Version

5 oz graham crackers
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, plus more for garnish, (I used salted)
8 TB butter, melted

Cream Filling:
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
4 TB butter, room temperature
2 TB powdered sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup of dulce de leche, plus more for garnish
3 medium bananas, sliced

Place the graham crackers in a food processor and process until coarsely ground. Add the peanuts and continue processing until finely ground. Pulse in the melted butter until well combined.

Transfer the crumbs to a 9.5" pie dish and press against the bottom and sides. Place in the refrigerator for 10 to 20 minutes.

While the crust is solidifying, whip the cream cheese and butter with a hand mixed on medium speed until fluffy and as lumpless as possible (there still may be a few but we want them to be minimal). Reduce the speed to low and add in the powdered sugar. Whip until just combined. (if you over whip, you might end up curdling the butter...not the result we're looking for). Add the cream and whip until you have soft peaks.

Take out your chilled crust and spread the dulce de leche on the bottom of the crust. If your dulce de leche is....too thick, you can warm it up a little in a pan first. Arrange your sliced bananas over the dulce de leche, overlapping as necessary.

Pour the whipped cream mixture on top of the bananas and spread evenly

(ok, so I didn't know how much filling I was making and apparently over extended my crust a bit)

Garnish with  dulce de leche and chopped peanuts.

I'd show you a picture of the sliced product....but to be honest, I suck at slicing and serving pie. It was a mess. But absolutely delicious. The saltiness from the peanuts, the creamy caramel dulce de leche and of course the bananas......ok, so I kinda wanna stick my face in it and come up licking.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Squash Pickles

Its that time of year....for those gardeners out there, when you're picking more than you can eat. It's a great feeling, having an abundance of fresh vegetables. Friends and family get to benefit from our gardens generosity as well, as we hand out our 'spoils' by the bagful.

It's also a time when we're racking our brains trying to figure out exactly what we're going to do with it all. Sure, there are Squash Casseroles, Zucchini Bread, fried zucchini and squash, Zucchini Pancakes, Zucchini and Potato Pancakes and many more. But what about the future? Something that we can make now and eat....later. Maybe when we're not so....zucchini and squashed out. You know?

I made Summer Squash Pickles a few weeks ago. My first pickling experience. It's from a recipe in The Homesick Texan. It was so easy that it got me to thinking.....hmmm.....pickling and canning. Maybe I should start venturing into that arena. There's a lot of it going on right about now. Sure...I've made a few freezer jams and that was easy. But canning? Pickling? Wooo, there's a little science involved there, right? I mean..there's pickling, hot water baths, pressure cooking, ooooh lord. Kinda intimidating.

Until you talk to a few pros. Which I did over on my Facebook fan page. They took the scary out of it and encouraged me. I even bought a cookbook (that's always exciting), Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Oh, and Guess what? I don't need any special tools. Sure, they'll help. Someday. When I have the time to find a store that sells them. But I have a large stock pot, and thats all I need really. Besides the jars and some dish towels. And the veggies.....

Summer Squash Pickles
Printable Version

1 lb yellow squash, sliced into 1/4" rounds
1 lb zucchini, sliced into 1/4" rounds
4 garlic cloves, cut in half
2 tsp dill seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp celery seeds
2 tsp peppercorn
1/2 cup water
2 cups white vinegar
2 TB kosher salt

2 pint sized jars or 1 quart sized jar, with lids and bands.

You might notice that I added some things to my veggie mix. Sliced onions, a couple of poblano peppers and a banana pepper. That did alter my veggie volume. I doubled my seasonings and vinegar, water and salt and just rolled with it. 

Clean and sterilize your jars and lids. Using tongs, place them on a clean surface.

Divide your veggies (squash, zucchini and garlic) and pack them into your jars.

Combine the seasonings (once again, I altered it a bit. I omitted the dill and add coriander...I thinks thats all I did. I considered mustard seed. Don't remember if I went through with it or not) and divide that also, amongst your jars.

In a saucepan, bring the vinegar, salt and water to a boil. Pour the boiling mixture into each jar, leaving a little head room. Cover with lids and fasten with bands. Set them off to the side to cool for about 4 hours.

At this time you can eat them or just place them in the fridge to pickle a bit more.  They should be consumed within a month.

And that's it. I did have to run a knife around the inside of the jar before I placed the lids on. There were air bubbles in there.

They are very vinegary.....and soooo delicious. I haven't done anything with them other than eat them straight out of the jar. They'd probably be a nice addition to a pasta salad of sorts. Or even chopped up and added to a big fat juicy hot dog. hmm....maybe that's what I'll do for dinner tonight. See? Just talking to you all inspires me.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Strawberry Summer Cake

Yep....that's all there was left by the time I was able to snap a picture. This super easy, very yummy Strawberry Summer Cake doesn't last long once it comes out of the oven.

(As always) I have a little story about this cake. You all are familiar with (or most likely have an account with) Pinterest.com  I'm not as hooked on it as a lot of people seem to be. I play over there every now and then. I have a few "boards" with some "pins" hanging around. But I'm not there on a daily basis by any means.

So, with that said, I remembered a recipe I had "saved" for a strawberry cake a while back. It was time to make it but I needed to find it. I immediately went to my Google Reader and searched high and low through my tagged and starred recipes. Nothing. I knew it wasn't in a magazine or cookbook. I don't keep recipes all over the place on my computer or on the internet. Well, I try not to. I do have them stacked around my desk....but that's a different story. I went back to my Google Reader and searched again (just in case I had missed it....stranger things have happened). Still nothing. I went over to Facebook and whined about not being able to find something when you want it. Which is always the case. Someone commented about how they keep all those must try recipes in Pinterest. Duh! omg....THATS where I had tagged pinned the recipe....it was in Pinterest! I had completely forgotten about that handy little website. Whew......what a relief to know that I was not losing my mind (this time).

Strawberry Summer Cake 
Inspired by: Collecting the Moments
Printable Version

1 lb fresh strawberries
6 TB butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease pie plate
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar plus 2 TB for sprinkling the cake
1 egg
1/2 cup milk buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350' F. Grease a 9" pan, with butter. You can use a cake pan, a spring form pan or a pie plate. I used a spring form pan.

First things first....take your beautiful strawberries

Hull them (ie: remove the stems) and cut them in half, length wise

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a medium bowl, beat together 1 cup of sugar and 6 TB of butter, until creamy and pale. Add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla and continue beating until combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix together just until its smooth.

Pour into your prepared pan. Place your strawberry halves on top of your batter, arranging as pretty as you can, cut side down.

Sprinkle 2 TB of sugar over the strawberries.

Bake for 10 minutes then turn the oven down to 325' and bake for an additional 50 - 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out batter free. Cool in the pan, on a rack.

Now....grab a fork...quick before it's all gone.

If you have time...and it's not eaten up already, make a little whipped cream to serve on top. As  you can see....that didn't happen in my case.

Note: cake batter from a box does not have the same end result as this recipe. (been there, done that)