Sunday, September 28, 2008

limoncello for fellows

I emptied my bourbon (hey hey into another bottle, not into my stomach) to use for the limonello steeping. I didn't have another glass jar large enough.

When I was a kid my brother and I used to get grow-a-frog kits for Christmas. You get a tadpole and a little tank. If you are lucky, it grows into a frog. For my birthday this year my brother sent me a limoncello recipe, and a set of glasses. Its with the same patience for tadpole legs that I wait for lemon peel and heavy duty vodka to turn into sweet sipping limoncello. It should be simple, like nature.

The recipe goes like this: pour 1/5 of 100 proof vodka into a 1 gallon glass jar along with the rinds of 15 fresh lemons (no pith!), and wait 10 - 40 days. Add another 1/5 of 100 proof vodka and simple syrup (4 cups sugar mixed with 5 cups water, boiled 8 minutes) and wait another 10 - 40 days. Strain and drink or bottle. You then have a product vastly, and affordably, superior to regular vodka.

Every now and then I take the bottle out and shake shake shake it. Not for any good reason, but the rind already makes a pretty color.

I'm on the first step, and 11 days in. My limoncello lurks in my closet, where it is cool and dark. I stumped all of the clerks at the 3 liquor stores I visited to locate 100 proof vodka. I even accidentally bought a bottle of 100% vodka. Whoops, is there even such a think as a vodka blend? I blame bad label editors.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tomato Adventure

I threaten myself with food adventures and stunts to keep me fresh. Constantly. Plan a BBQ, make jerky, decorate with fondant, churn butter, dehydrate fruit, go on a raw food diet. Mostly I entertain the thoughts. Canning is something I've been curious about. The country mouse inside my head reminds me that winter is coming, and the local tomatoes at the market are huge.

I want to make the accoutriments to this year's party in advance. Bon Appétit's October issue has a great mulit-page illustrated tutorial on canning. It took 2 weeks to pull it together, but here is the a quasi-real time break down of my first canning adventure:

A week in advance I started looking for the supplies: quart mason jars and lids, a basic set of tools (funnel, jar gripper, an unsophisticated but helpful magnet on a stick for grabbing hot lids,) a tall stock pot with a rack for the bottom.

I live in New York City. Canning is not too popular and Broadway Panhandler and Zabar's are out of my way & out of the supplies I needed. I ordered online from distributors in my area to save on shipping, and save me a few trips. The Bowery strip of restaurant suppliers provided my super shiny 14" aluminum stock pot to manage quart size mason jars. I never found a jar rack for the cans, so I improvised with a vented pie plate, turned upside down.

The recipe came from the same bon appétit for fresh tomato sauce. I talked to every tomato selling farmer at the Union Square Market to locate my bounty. Some sold soft or second tomatoes at a discount, between $1.50 and $4.00. One generous farmer sold me a big 30 lb box for $20! A serious score. I bought some fresh shallots, and herbs to go along. I setteled for plain-old store bought lemon concentrate from the grocery. Acidity levels are key in preventing botulism. Hauling the tomatoes back to Brooklyn was a trial, but its probably faster then making several small trips, or even carrying proportionate amounts of sauce. Everything that went in the sauce (minus a little sugar and salt) was fresh and organic.

The steps:
It took from 3 to 8.30 pm to make and process the sauce. I was boiling water the whole time. Not bad considering I got 7 quarts from my 30 lb of tomatoes, with about 6 lbs extra for more tomatoey adventures I have yet to plan.

Everything has to be washed and boiled, before it gets canned and boiled again. There is a huge excess of water used for the whole canning program.

While jars boil I had time to peel the 40 or so tomatoes. To peel the tomatoes, I plunged them in more boiling water for 5 seconds. The skins really do slip right off.

Then I quartered, seeded, and chopped. By this point I just want to get on with the cooking, but these steps are important to quality. My entire sink was filled with tomato seeds.

Hot stuff on the stove top. I ended up making the sauce in 3 batches. After the sauce was cooked I decided to puree it in my food processor. I made a huge amount of dishes doing all of this, which requires lots of water to clean, sigh.

The next step isn't photographed. Its the step when I pulled the jars out of boiling water and filled them with boiling sauce before closing and returning them to the boiling water. Not a good time to stop and take photos.

Finished product. All of my lids sealed, and it was such a relif. The picture doesn't capture it, but the sauce boiled inside the jars for almost an hour after they came out of the water. They remain a very pretty vermilion color. My stove top was a splattered and burned brownish red color with hints of black.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pizza Amore

About a week before the last year's dinner I realized that everyone had rsvp'd positively for themselves plus extra company. I started getting panicky, and I sent out lines for help. A guy I was dating made himself available every hour of every day. He was ready to drive anywhere for supplies, shape potato pancakes, chop onions, strain stock, take out trash, anything.

I was glad for this help, but wasn't feeling swept away by the romance. The day before (a 14-16 hour prep day in the kitchen) the guy and I decided to order a pizza on break. I remember him looking at me amorously while we waited for the delivery guy, and I remember my nerves snapping. I spontaneously broke up with him on the spot, before the pizza arrived. He stuck around and ate a slice before leaving. The leftover pizza was given to the next set of helping hands. It was nicknamed "the heartbreak pizza" for its place in my relationship.

This year I am challenged (only by myself) to maintain the tradition of generous quantities of food. Rather then spending all together too much time sweating and breaking my back in the kitchen I decided this year will be make-your own damn pizza and antipasto. One food with endless combinations. Advance plans to pickle and jar my own vegetables and sauce are on their way. Simplified, I provide, you decide. It will be more fun. Everyone helps. It will help clear my conscious and palate of the heartbreak pizza.

extra note: Does The New Yorker read my mind? Sometimes yes.