Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Crema de la Crema

In Italy there is a favored after dinner drink called Limoncello. It’s distilled alcohol infused with lemon rind and sweetened up with simple syrup, basically. You can buy it or make your own. I’ve always found limoncello to be a little harsh tasting so when my neighbors poured me a little Crema di Limoncello last summer I was wowed. They bought it at Bev Mo, but when my lemons started ripening with a vengeance I decided to try my hand at making it. I found a recipe online which looked easy but also looked a little sweet – I didn’t want to drink a creamsicle! So I made the milk and sugar as instructed but didn’t add it all at once, tasting as I went, and I ended up using about 25% less sweet milk than called for. The result was delicious, sweet but not too sweet, a little lemony, you can taste the vodka but not overpowering. Serve in shot glasses. Note: classically it’s made with high octane Everclear, but I used Tito’s, a good quality, reasonably priced vodka. Don’t drink the cheap stuff. Just sayin’.

Crema di Limoncello

Makes 1 ½ quarts. Doubles just fine.

5 lemons
½ bottle (750ml bottle) good vodka
3 cups whole milk
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
½ tsp vanilla

Zest lemons using zester or microplane. Use lemons for juice or some other delicacy. Place the zest and vodka in a covered container in a cool dark place for at least a week. Strain the vodka through a double mesh strainer into another non reactive container.

In a sauce pan warm the milk, sugar and vanilla over medium heat, stirring until dissolved. No boiling! This doesn’t take long. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature, which takes about an hour or so.

Combine the infused vodka with the sweet milk. I didn’t have any curdling but if you do just strain it out. Keep in the freezer, leaving room in the bottle for expansion. Mine freezes solid so take it out a while before you plan to serve. It tastes best very cold. Cheers!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Warm Your Cockles With Soup

Butternut Squash Soup with honey and Sage

I don’t buy cookbooks too often these days, they take up room and I subscribe to cooking magazines! But I was at a museum bookstore open house recently and instantly fell in love with Long Nights and Log Fires, a book packed with winter time recipes. Aah, I couldn’t resist!

So I made a butternut squash soup (it was billed as pumpkin soup but butternut is more accessible) and tweaked it a bit. If you can really blend it well into a puree you really don’t need the cream. But go ahead and add it if you wish. This is delicious and will warm your cockles.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small-medium onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
dash red pepper flakes (optional)
2 ¼ lbs butternut squash, seeded, peeled and cut into cubes
2 heaping tablespoons clear honey
3 sprigs sage, plus extra crisp-fried leaves (optional) to serve
3 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup heavy cream (optional)
freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Gently melt the butter in a large lidded saucepan. Add the onion, carrot and garlic. Stir, cover and cook, over low heat for about 4-5 minutes. Add the squash, honey, and sage, stir, replace the lid and continue to cook very gently for about 10 minutes. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil and cook for a further 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly, then remove the sage and strain the soup, retaining the liquid. Put half the cooked vegetables in a food processor with just enough of the reserved cooking liquid to blend into a smooth puree. (If, like me, you have an excellent blender, just blend veg and liquid into a puree. No straining needed.)

Transfer to a clean saucepan and repeat with the remaining vegetables, adding the puree to the first batch. Bring the soup slowly to a boil, then stir in the cream if using, off heat. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

If desired, fry some sage leaves in a neutral oil like grapeseed until crisp. Use to garnish bowls of soup. Serve with crusty bread.

I added a little heat to the recipe because that’s the way I like it.

I have some upcoming projects I am wanting to try: chiles en nogada – stuffed poblano chiles with walnut sauce. I had it last year in a Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe, NM and just can’t forget about it. So I randomly decided I had to read Like Water for Chocolate, found it in a used book store, and googled “are the recipes in Like Water for Chocolate any good?” and found a great looking recipe in Melissa Guerra’s Latin Kitchen Market blog. I’m going to try it soon. (I saw the movie of Like Water… years ago and finally decided I had to read it. Just so you know, I really disliked Mama Elena.)

For the first time ever, I have a more than decent crop of Meyer lemons. I have been giving lemons away, but I am really wanting to make Crema di Limoncello. Limoncello is a lemon liqueur from Italy. It’s nice but a little harsh tasting for me. Last summer our neighbors served us crema di limoncello (with milk in it) and it was amazing. I found a great looking recipe and I’m going to get some good Vodka (Tito’s – it’s reasonably priced and has been distilled 6 times) and go for it. Wish me luck!

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Day Without Kale is a Day Without Sunshine

I know kale is a big nutritional fad right now, and I’ve been eating it off and on for years. Reluctantly, I might add, because it’s so tough. However, I found a recipe that improves on the texture by freezing the greens before cooking them; it breaks down the cellulose. I wonder if that would work on leathery collard greens? Try it and let me know. I amped up the flavor by switching up some ingredients. It’s a good veg dish, fit for company, with a Mediterranean flavor. Use Tuscan, also called lacinato kale, if available; otherwise use the normal grocery store kale.

Tuscan Kale with Pancetta

3 lb Tuscan kale, washed, stemmed and frozen for at least a few hours
couple shakes red pepper flakes
1 tb olive oil
6 oz pancetta or smoked bacon, cut into lardons (1/4” crosswise strips)
1 ½ cups thinly sliced red onion (about 1 medium)
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 ½ cups low sodium chicken broth
red wine vinegar

Fill an 8 qt pot with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add big pinch of salt and dump in the frozen, straight-from-the-freezer kale. Mostly cover the pan cook on high heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but not mushy. Drain in a colander (save the cooking water if you like) and press out excess liquid. When cool enough to handle, chop up kale.

Warm up the pot with olive oil over medium high heat and add pancetta, cooking until starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and pinch salt and sweat until tender. Don’t worry about a little color on your aromatics, it will add flavor. Add the broth, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Add the kale and black pepper. Cook gently for 7 minutes, adjust seasonings.

Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Offer red-wine vinegar, it really adds great flavor.

I’ve been working on my love-hate relationship with making fresh pasta. I watched Giuliano Hazan, evidently a renowned cookbook author make tortelloni online. I did make a tasty batch so I may try some more.

A stop at Lockeford Meats yesterday inspired me to try my hand at sausage making. They make incredible sausage; the Hawaiian luau is amazing. Just a little sweet, with a hint of pineapple. My mom bought some Italian sausage but it didn’t have any fennel in it!!!! What the heck!? So she and I are going to make Italian sausage soon. I have a pork shoulder in the freezer, a recipe from Top Chef University and she has the grinder and stuffer attachment. I just need to track down the casings. No nasty nitrates/nitrites are added; the sausage will go in the freezer. AND THEN, I am going to make Sunday gravy this fall, with my own sausage in it! Maybe I will make pasta to go with it. Or not. Probably not. Ciao!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pasta and a Central Coast Drift

I periodically watch the Barefoot Contessa and recently recorded a program from 3 years ago on Italian cooking. This recipe originally came from Florence, Italy and she swore it was her favorite. So I made it and it was delicious but a little too spicy for Paul so I cut the crushed red pepper flakes in half in the recipe below. If you want to warm up your boca a little more just use the ½ teaspoon crushed red peppers originally called for. I also added pancetta at the end for texture and color, buying a package of diced pancetta at Trader Joe’s. However, next time I will buy pancetta at the deli counter, slice it into ¼” strips (lardons) and brown them. I think it would look nicer. Smoked bacon would be good too, I think.

Yes, the recipe calls for penne which will be excellent but Paul and I were 1 block away from the Genova Bakery in Stockton and I took him in there. It’s about 100 years old, in a dicey part of town and well known for their bread. Their foccaccia is divine! When we walked in I was hit by the heavenly aromas of freshly baked bread and aged cheese. They sell pasta making tools and bottled peppers and thingies and I picked up a package of cavatelli from Italy for our dish. (It worked out well.) So use this recipe as a guide, swerving as you may. (I used Manchego because I had it on hand.) It is really delicious. I might use half and half next time instead of cream. Maybe.

Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola

Serves: 4 to 6 servings


  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled plum tomatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 4 tablespoons fresh oregano
  • 3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
  • Grated Parmesan or Manchego or other hard aged cheese
  • 4 oz pancetta, cut crosswise ¼” thick, optional


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large oven proof saute pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vodka and continue cooking until the mixture is reduced by half.

Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes through a sieve and crush them into the pan with your hands. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.

While the tomatoes are roasting brown the pancetta strips if using and set aside on a paper towel.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Drain and set aside.

Place the tomato mixture in a blender and puree in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Return to the pan.

Reheat the sauce, add 2 tablespoons fresh oregano and enough heavy cream to make the sauce a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the pasta into the sauce and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Top with pancetta and serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh oregano on each plate.

Cavatelli alla Vecchia

I love to tell you about restaurants I’ve tried (the good ones) and Paul and I went away to the Central California Coast this weekend. We started in San Luis Obispo (SLO) and hit the Thursday night farmer’s market. It’s a big social event in SLO and there’s entertainment as well as street food. I had Mamma Mia’s lasagna and it was pretty great street food. We did eat breakfast at the Apple Farm, and it was wonderful. They served a buttery scone that was almost like shortbread with their own boysenberry jam. Yum.

Crustacea at the SLO Farmers Market

At coffee we ran into some people I knew, and they suggested Giuseppe’s in Pismo Beach for dinner. I was wondering if it was going to be one of those Olive Garden type places, but I was happily wrong. It’s white table cloth with fun décor and a great wine list. I don’t normally drink Syrah but this Syrah made for Giuseppe was smooth, medium on the way to full bodied and delicious. Two glasses and nary a headache later. Huzzah! The osso bucco with saffron risotto was cooked perfectly, I think in white wine. Paul’s bacon wrapped large prawns were slightly overcooked but still delicious. The service was excellent. A little expensive but so worth it. Go to Pismo and eat at Giuseppe’s. It’s on Price St. as is everything else of note in Pismo.

Black Cat Bistro

We drifted on up to Cambria, a very pretty town on the ocean with nice shops and galleries and great restaurants. Have breakfast at Linn’s on Main St and try the olallieberrie jam. Dinner at the Black Cat Bistro is pretty important. It’s an old house so the dining is all over the place. They were fully booked but the bar was empty at that moment so there we landed. We have eaten there in the past and I knew good wine was important to them but I was surprised to learn they serve wine in Riedel glasses. They are designed in such a way as to bring out the best in the flavors of the wine. Heck if I know how that works, but it does. Paul and I decided to share some plates and had a risotto, a gnocchi appetizer and a goat cheese plate with a short bread cookie with a couple of jammy things that was delicious. The smoothest chevre I’ve ever had. The wine she was good too. So, yes I recommend the Black Cat. You might want to make reservations. It’s popular.

Goat Cheese App at the Black Cat

P.S. if you love succulents there is a wonderful nursery called the Garden Shed in Cambria that sells rare and exotic succulents. A really great selection; Paul and I went gaga. We also bought some plants. We have a new plant addiction for Paul.

We drifted further north to Monterey on the hairpin ride of Hwy 1. I was reminded why it is such a pain to drive but filled with beautiful sights. We returned to the scene of the crime (we ate there a year ago) at Esteban, a mediterranean/tapas restaurant in the Casa Munras hotel. I wanted to try the bacalao, salt cod mixed with mashed potatoes. It’s fishy, but I decided I liked it without the bread, as did Paul. The lamb burgers were juicy, the pickled onions added a nice brightness to contrast the lamb. The butter lettuce salad with blue cheese and candied pecans was nice and fresh and delicious. Our server Ernesto was very helpful and friendly. And yes, the wine was good.

Wild Plum café is a block away and a great place to have breakfast. They really know how to cook breakfast potatoes – actually cooked through and well seasoned. I had a wonderful frittata with feta and other delights. Their bread and pastries are house made.

One last place to stop: we had agreed to stop in at Andy’s Orchard in Morgan Hill on the way home. I had read about it in Sunset Magazine, mooning over the apricots picked ripe instead of green, the wonderful cherries. You get my drift. Well his little country store had extremely sweet and delicious Rainier cherries and the apricots I brought home are juicy and flavorful. I will be sad when we have eaten them all, as you would be.

The Country Store at Andys Orchard

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chicken Cacciatore Story

My first adventure with preparing chicken cacciatore was with a recipe on a package of Golden Grain rotelle. That was years ago and it was decent tasting. But I have evolved. The other day I got an irresistible urge to make something cacciatore-ish, so I looked up a recipe on the La Cucina Italiana site. There wasn’t enough liquid to suit me so I sort of did whatever I wanted, as I am inclined to do. I wanted plenty of sauce for pasta, or polenta, or whatever. Of course authentic cacciatore is made with rabbit, and as I didn’t want to chase down a cottontail I went with chicken thighs.

6 chicken thighs, skinned, salted and peppered
1 tbs oil
½ cup dry red wine
1 cup chopped onions
1 diced carrot
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbs flour
pinch red pepper flakes
1 or more cups low sodium chicken broth
8 oz pasta of your choice boiled in salted water

Brown thighs in oil, remove from pan. Pour off most of fat. Cook onions and carrots until tender, no problem if there is caramelization. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant. Stir in flour and cook for a minute or two. Add wine and cook down a bit (I actually poured in a big glug without measuring). Put chicken back in the pan with all accumulated juices and add chicken broth as needed to partially cover and make plenty of sauce. Bring to a boil and then cover tightly. You can finish cooking as per your preference, on top of the stove on low or in the oven at 350° for about 45 minutes or until tender. I like the meet falling off the bone. In the last 15 minutes of cooking add fresh herbs like oregano or rosemary. Not too much, just a couple of sprigs.

Serve with freshly cooked pasta. You can goose up the flavor with porcini powder cooked in the sauce if you have it. Or add some diced and cooked pancetta.How about some sliced mushrooms? Go wild. Pretend you’re a mighty hunter; after all, cacciatore is a hunter’s dish.

Chicken Cacciatore

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Let Us Braise

I absolutely love to braise tough cuts of meat. The connective tissue and collagen melt over low heat and turn into tender deliciousness. And I absolutely love pork shoulder; it is essential for carnitas, pulled pork, and here, braised in marsala wine. I originally found the recipe in La Cucina Italiana, a wonderful magazine which has made buying Italian cookbooks unnecessary. The recipe originally called for a pork loin roast, which I don’t like because it’s a thick, dry cut of meat. I’ve had pork loin roast which ranged from awful to just edible so I wasn’t going to go there.

You can cook the meat in one piece or cut it up into one inch chunks, as I did for a recent cooking class I taught. Regarding the chestnuts you can go one of three ways: leave them out, buy canned ones and use those, or boil and peel them as I describe below. I am going to try the canned ones next time.

This dish is delicious. I haven’t heard a single discouraging word when it is served - only happy sounds.

Marsala Braised Pork Shoulder

Serves 6

½ pound chestnuts
2 ½ pound boneless pork shoulder
Fine sea salt
2 ounces diced pancetta
4 bay leaves
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups dry Marsala wine
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 ¼ cup beef broth
freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 325° with rack in middle of oven.

Bring a saucepan to a boil, add chestnuts. Boil 5 minutes, drain. Peel and set aside.

Season pork all over with ¼ teaspoon salt. Place ¼ cup flour on a baking sheet; roll pork in flour to coat.

Heat oil in a 5 to 7 quart Dutchen oven or wide heavy pot with lid over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Brown pork on all sides, 10 to 15 minutes total. Remove pork. Add pancetta and lightly brown.

In a large saucepan, whisk together remaining ¼ cup flour and wine over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, whisking often, until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Add milk, broth, ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Gently simmer, whisking occasionally, until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer sauce to pan with pork. Add chestnuts and bay leaves. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and lid. Roast, turning pork two separate times, replacing foil and lid, until meat is tender.

Remove pan from oven and let meat rest in pan 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Minne Marm Me

I’ve been dithering about making orange marmalade for some time now. I made a lemon ginger marmalade a few years ago, which was delicious but a nightmare of endlessly emerging seeds. But now I have made the plunge, using the Minneola tangerines from my backyard tree. That tree has been a real trooper over the years, providing plenty of fruit for donating to our neighbors by the bag full. Now the fruit has peaked in flavor and juiciness and I figured I had better get cracking before it’s late.

Minneola Tangerines

The recipe below is from the Food TV site and is by Alton Brown. It worked great except for a little something – my mandoline isn’t sharp enough to slice citrus without mangling them, so I had to switch to my 8” chef knife. Even after simmering the minneolas for 40 minutes, effectively tenderizing them, cooking them in sugar seemed to toughen the strips back up. The flavor was great but Paul was picking the strips out of his marmalade.

It occurred to me during the process that I may wish I had pulsed them in the food processor, and lo, my foodie next door neighbor told me about the marmalade he had that was made in Sweden or some other Arctic country. It was finely chopped and he swore it was the best orange marmalade evah. Feeling emboldened, I got out my food processor and turned out another batch. The result  addictively good, sweet, citrusy, with a mild bitterness that marmalade is known for, and yet a little chewy, which is normal. If you can’t get minneolas, wait until the thin skinned Valencias are in season. There is too much rind on the navel orange, which is for eating anyway. Sometime when I can get my hands on blood oranges for a reasonable price I will give them a whirl.

Minne Marm

Minne Marm
yields 8-9 cups


  • 1 3/4 pounds oranges, minneolas or other thin-skinned citrus, 4 to 5 medium
  • 1 lemon, zest finely grated and juiced
  • 6 cups water
  • 3 pounds plus 12 ounces sugar
  • Special Equipment: 8-9 (8-ounce) canning jars with rings and lids, funnel, tongs, ladle, and 12-quart pot


Wash the oranges and lemon thoroughly. Cut the oranges into 1/8-inch slices using a mandoline, removing the seeds as you go. Stack the orange slices and cut them into quarters. (Alternatively, use your food processor to finally chop the goods. Don’t turn into a paste.) Place the oranges into an 8-quart stainless steel pot. Add the lemon zest and juice and the water to the pot, set over high heat and bring to a boil, approximately 10 minutes. Once boiling, reduce the heat to maintain a rapid simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 40 minutes or until the fruit is very soft.

While the fruit is cooking, fill a large pot (at least 12-quart) 3/4 full with water, set over high heat and bring to a boil. Place the (8-ounce) jars and rings, canning funnel, ladle, and tongs into the boiling water and make sure the water covers the jars by at least an inch. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the lids and leave everything in the pot until the marmalade is ready.

Meanwhile, place a small plate in the freezer. Increase the heat under the orange mixture to return to full boil. Add the sugar and stir the mixture continually, until it reaches 222 to 223 degrees F on a deep-fry or candy thermometer, and darkens in color, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. You may need to adjust the heat in order to prevent boil over. Test the readiness of the marmalade by placing a teaspoon of the mixture onto the chilled plate and allowing it to sit for 30 seconds. Tilt the plate. The mixture should be a soft gel that moves slightly. If mixture is thin and runs easily, it is not ready.

Remove jars from the water and drain on a clean towel. Place a canning funnel onto the top of 1 of the jars and ladle in the marmalade just to below the bottom of the threads of the jar. Repeat until all of the mixture has been used. The amount of marmalade may vary by 1 to 2 jars. Wipe the rims and threads of the jars with a moist paper towel and top each with a lid. Place a ring on each jar and tighten.

Return the jars to the pot with boiling water, being certain that they don't touch the bottom of the pot or each other. (If you don't have a jar rack, try a round cake rack, or metal mesh basket. Even a folded kitchen towel on the pot bottom will do in a pinch.) Add additional water if necessary to cover the jars by at least an inch. Boil for 10 minutes. Using canning tongs, carefully remove the jars from the water, place in a cool dry place and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours before opening. Once open, store in the refrigerator. Unopened marmalade will last for up to 6 months.

Spoonful of Minne Marm