Sunday, July 24, 2011

Limoncello, the final result

So, remember how I told you all a month ago that I was making limoncello? Well, it is finally finished. You see, the Everclear had to soak up all of the lemony goodness of the lemon peel from 15 lemons for 3 weeks before I could add the sugar water and eventually transfer the mixture to bottles for serving and sharing. The end result is very lemony and rather potent. It is best served chilled and sipped slowly...

I have already told you my limoncello story (in the link above), so here I am going to take the time to talk about a favorite person of mine. A person who happens to love lemons. In fact, on the 4th of July, I asked this person what his favorite fruit was and he listed the following: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and lemons. This person is my three-year-old nephew.

Yes, aside from Positano, lemons also make me think of my nephew, and how when he was a baby he would suck on lemons as though they were candy. Yes, he puckered his lips when eating a lemon, but he seemed to love the experience. This was back when he made Zoolander lips...

But now he is getting a little bit older and getting more of a personality. He's a little bit bossier, but he's also as sweet as can be. Just last night he was sitting next to me at a restaurant, telling me all of the things he wanted to do at my apartment, and then he suddenly stood up, turned around, threw his arms around me and told me, "I love you, Ray-Ray. I love Lucy and Enzo too." It's moments like these that I wish I could preserve in a bottle to enjoy later. But I will take them as they come.

This potent liqueur should be sipped.

1 750ml bottle Everclear
15 lemons (preferably organic)
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water

Scrub the lemons and peel them, being sure not to get any of the white (which is bitter). Put the peels in a 2-quart mason jar, then cover with the Everclear. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 3 weeks, shaking the mixture daily.

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until the liquid is clear and the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool for 30 minutes. Strain the Everclear-lemon mixture and pour back into the mason jar.  Add the sugar water and allow to cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge overnight. Transfer the limoncello to sterilized 8-oz bottles. Makes about 7 bottles.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Strawberry-Rhubarb Sorbet

What a pretty color!
I've been a bit lazy about writing this blog post for two reasons: writer's block and crappy weather. I made sorbet while it was sorbet weather, but that sorbet weather was replaced with a week of clouds and rain and misery. Okay, maybe that's a little overly dramatic, but seriously, you can't give me sunshine and heat and then just suddenly take it away and expect me to be happy about it. I understand that there are worse things in the world than bad weather, but I also refuse to believe that my feelings are invalid.

So anyway, sorbet. I don't usually eat sorbet because I'm more of a rich, creamy dessert girl than a fruity girl. But we were talking about strawberries and rhubarb that needed to be used up toute de suite, so I gave it a shot. I'm very happy I did. Not only was the sorbet ridiculously easy to make, but it was very delicious. Perfect on a sunny day...

I also discovered something about sorbet this week: you can create a sort of make-shift margarita with it. Just take a scoop or two of sorbet, add some tequila and triple sec, et voila! Margarita! Just make sure to use proper measurements because eye-balling the measurements is terribly dangerous...

Strawberry-Rhubarb Sorbet
from The Perfect Scoop

12 oz rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces
2/3 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
10 oz fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the rhubarb, sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 5 minutes or until the rhubarb is softened. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

In a food processor, combine the rhubarb mixture, strawberries, and lemon juice and pulse until smooth. Chill the mixture in the fridge overnight.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

All-American Afternoon Tea

Blackberry pies.
So, you know how my sister, Frakah, and I are into afternoon tea and want to start our own tea/bakery one day? Well, we're coming up with ideas for themed teas, and I came up with the idea for an American tea to celebrate the 4th of July. My family always gets together for every holiday, so I thought this would be the perfect occasion to try out a special tea theme.

It's a pie tree!
My first thought was (shocker) dessert. I knew right away that I wanted to make mini pies- blue ones and red ones, based on whatever I could find at the farmer's market. My second idea was for deviled eggs and mini hamburgers and veggie burgers (because I'm a vegetarian). The rest was based upon what we usually have for the 4th of July: potato salad, chips and dip, and veggies with dip.

I volunteered to make the pies, the burger buns, and the veggie burgers. I had no idea what I'd signed myself up for, but let's just say I ended the 3-day weekend feeling absolutely exhausted.

Aw, so cute! Mini veggie burgers.
My plan was to divide the baking into 3 days for the 3 items: Saturday was for pies, Sunday was for buns, and Monday was for veggie burgers (which needed to be fresh for the grill anyway). Well Saturday evening and Sunday morning saw me failing with my pies (24 mini pies means rolling dough out and shaping 48 pie crusts), Sunday afternoon/evening saw me failing with my buns (the damn dough would not rise!), and Monday morning the veggie burgers worked out perfectly (yay!). I actually had to re-bake my pies (which were baked in muffin pans) because I under-cooked them the first time around. Luckily, the pies turned out to be quite good. The buns, on the other hand, were passable, but should have been fluffier.

Strawberry-rhubarb mini pie.
All of this baking had me thinking: why do I put myself through this trouble? I got to thinking and realized the following: a) the stress of baking takes my mind off of any kind of stress/frustration/bad thoughts and feelings I may have, b) I usually enjoy the end result, and, most importantly, c) I do it for the pleasure that it usually brings other people. Few things make me happier than seeing my nephew get excited over something I've baked, or having my sister-in-law tell me how great something looks (even when I think it doesn't). What it really comes down to is sharing the fruits of my labor with people I care about. It's all about the love.

As for the 4th of July Afternoon Tea, it went over pretty well. I made a berry iced tea and threw some frozen strawberries and blackberries into the pitcher. My mini pies were blackberry and strawberry-rhubarb and though not perfect, they looked pretty darn cute, if you ask me. The family seemed to enjoy everything, and though my nephew did not partake of the meal, he did inquire about a pie. Sadly, boys who don't eat dinner don't get dessert.

Happy Independence Day!
Mini Pies

4 discs of chilled pie dough
1 recipe strawberry-rhubarb filling
1 recipe blackberry filling (below)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Roll out 1 disc of pie dough to about 1/8 of an inch. Cut out 12 4-inch circles of dough (you may have to roll out the dough a little thinner) and fit them into the muffin tin. Chill the tin in the fridge while you prepare your filling. Next, roll out the second disc and either cut out 12 3-1/2 inch circles (for strawberry-rhubarb) or use a pizza slicer to cut long thin strips for a lattice crust (for blackberry). Fill each pie crust with filling (abut 3/4 full) and top with the top crust, crimping the edges together.

Bake one muffin tin for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce the heat to 375 and bake for another 30 minutes. You want the crust to be a nice golden brown (try not to under-bake!). Let the pies rest until completely cool.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Baking Monster Cookies, Amish Style

That is one monster of a cookie.
Last night I set out with the intention of making Monster Cookies using a recipe from The Amish Cook's Baking Book. I measured the sugars and butter into my large bowl and grabbed my hand mixer to cream the butter and sugars together. Trouble was, the beaters would not stay in the machine part of the mixer. Like, at all. I tried switching them around, using the other pair of beaters, but all to no avail. Mind you, this hand mixer was old. I don't know how old, but it was my mom's and I took it when I moved out on my own because she had bought herself a brand-new one. Needless to say, I was now mixer-less. How the h-e-double-hockey-sticks am I supposed to cream butter and sugar without a machine?

No, the irony of this predicament was not lost on me. Here I was trying to bake a recipe from an Amish cookbook and my damn machine goes kaput, forcing to make the batch of cookies entirely by hand, sans electricity (save, of course, for the baking in the oven part). Yes, somewhere above the clouds, God was laughing at me. Perhaps he was even rolling on the floor.

Despite my little problem, the cookies turned out rather good. They're nowhere near as good as my famous chocolate chip cookies or my super-duper chocolate cookies, but these are an entirely different type of cookie. These have oats, peanut butter, milk chocolate chips, semisweet chocolate chips, and M&Ms. Boo-ya. I tell myself that they're kind of healthy because of the oats and peanut butter. My coworker said that it's okay to eat them because they're like a granola bar. They're nice and soft, with that hearty, oaty texture and plenty of chocolate. Oh, and did I mention that they have peanut butter in them? Because they do. And the combo of peanut butter and chocolate is awesome.

Cookie time!
Monster Cookies
adapted from the Amish Cook's Baking Book

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp corn syrup
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
4 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups M&Ms

Heat oven to 350 degrees F, with the racks at the lower-middle and upper-middle positions.

Cream together the butter and sugars (by hand, if you must). Add the eggs and mix well after each addition. Before mixing in the third egg, add the vanilla, corn syrup, and baking soda. After adding the last egg, add the peanut butter and mix well until combined. Stir in the oats until combined, then stir in the chocolate chips and M&Ms.

Drop the batter onto ungreased cookie sheets using a soup spoon. Form into a somewhat cohesive ball, and keep the cookies 2 inches apart on two baking sheets. Stick the baking sheets on the racks in the oven and bake for a total of 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time.

Remove the pans from the oven when the cookies are golden brown around the edges. Cool on the sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to wire racks (or your mouth) to cool completely. Enjoy!