Posted in infusion

Limoncello

The lemon zest turns it yellow.
The lemon zest turns it yellow.

I have a limoncellario, or limoncello recipe, from a real live Italian mom.  And I can’t use it in this state, which has banned grain alcohol.  So I had to do my best to adapt the recipe to 80 proof (40% abv) vodka.  I never thought I would say this, but vodka is wimpy.  But, it’s still good limoncello.  I think I used a little too much sugar, which is funny because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to dissolve enough sugar in the small amount of water I was adding (when you use 95% abv you can add a lot more water).  I think that by increasing the ratio of sugar to water to 2:1 by volume, I created an invert sugar despite not adding acid or boiling for the syrup for very long.  Invert sugar is sweeter than regular sugar, so that threw off my proportions.  And it seems to be true that the vodka can’t extract quite as much of the lemony goodness as grain alcohol can.  But again, any limoncello is good limoncello.  Here’s the recipe I used this time (which I put in baker’s percentage based on the vodka, even though this is not at all a baked good):

100.0 B%    690.0 g    750 mL vodka (1 bottle)
29.0 B%      200.0 g    200 mL water (your measuring cup probably has mL on it; if not, convert here)
47.0 B%      324.0 g    400 mL sugar

zest of 8-10 lemons

Put the lemon zests in the vodka for a week to a month.  Put the sugar in the water and bring to a boil, then cool.  Strain the vodka and mix it with the simple syrup (that’s what you call the sugar-water thing you just made).  Pour into bottles.  Refrigerate.

Naturally, if you zest 8 lemons, you will be left with 8 naked lemons.  I assume naked lemons don’t last that long.  So I juiced all of mine and put the juice in my Not Actually Ice cube trays.  Now whenever I have a recipe that calls for lemon juice, I don’t have to wait until my next grocery trip to make it.

Incidentally, it is unbelievably difficult to find a decent funnel in this town.  Or the next town over, for that matter.  After exhausting the usual big chains, I went to a little cooking supply store, where I had a goldilocks problem.  The canning funnels are too big and the spice funnels are too small.  I could buy both and put them together, but that would cost about $25, which is about ten times what I think a funnel should cost.  Then I found a wine funnel, with a curved tip and a strainer inside, and that was $30.  I guess they figure people who do things with wine will pay anything.  So I made do with a measuring cup and the pour-y part of my saucepan.  But really.  Dear Town, please import some funnels.

Finally, having freed up my infusion vessel, I put a new bottle of vodka in with my squeezed-out key limes.  We’ll see what that tastes like in a couple of weeks.

Later notes: Never put the pith (white part) of citrus in an infusion.  My key lime liqueur came out way too bitter.  I’m very sad.  However, I used 200 mL of sugar with the same general recipe in another batch of liqueur, and I think it’s a better balance.  I’ll use it in my next limoncello.

Posted in porridge

Carrot and fennel risotto

I had some chicken broth to use up after my last batch of risotto, and a bunch of vegetables from this week’s installment of my farm share.  Most of the vegetables are leafy, but I did find fennel and carrots.  These are aromatics, and I am currently lacking the aromatics (shallots or onions) that I would normally start a risotto with.  I must admit, though, that I have never cooked fennel before, so I wasn’t exactly sure how strong it was or how to cook it.  I should have paid better attention to Iron Chef America: Battle Fennel last night.  I used some of the green stem and some of the white root, and sprinkled some leaves on the top at the end.  I learned from Iron Chef that you can eat practically every part of fennel; I love foods like that.

Risotto generally tastes better than it looks.
Risotto generally tastes better than it looks.

The flavor wasn’t too strong; the risotto came out pretty well, with just a general soft, fresh sweetness to it.  Nice.  The only problem was that, even though I started cooking the fennel before starting the rice, and then cooked them together the whole time, the fennel was kind of tough.  At the very least, I’ll mince it in the future.  The internet says that fennel has that problem, and peeling it and cutting it thinly seems to be the general consensus on how to avoid it.  Here’s a post on good things to do with fennel, which I am mostly linking to because I love the tagline of the blog: “I wrote you a restaurant review, but I eated it.”

For anyone who doesn’t know how one makes a carrot fennel risotto, the procedure is as follows:

  1. Sweat aromatics in olive oil.  Meanwhile, start heating some broth in another pot.
  2. Add arborio rice and cook for a couple minutes.
  3. Add a splash of wine and let it cook off.
  4. Add broth, a ladleful or two at a time, to the rice.  Stir.
  5. Add more broth when the last installment is gone. Do this about 3-4 times, until the rice is the texture you want; if you normally like your starches very soft, you may want to cook it slightly less than you think you should, based on a past “adventure” I had with mushy risotto.
  6. Add any other stuff you want to be in your risotto.  Parmesan cheese is recommended.
  7. Serve immediately.  Yes, for real.

I used about 100g of rice this time, and I think it was just about right.  I’m really bad at eyeballing it because it grows so much when it cooks, so I’ve taken to measuring it on my baking scale.

Posted in custard

Key lime mini-pies

Served in a regular-sized pie plate.
Served in a regular-sized pie plate.

It is a well-known fact that miniature things are cuter than regular-sized things.  When it comes to food, they are also really good for parties.  I make itty bitty key lime pies in a mini muffin tin, and yes it is a pain in the butt to press the crust into all those little holes, but it is so worth it when everyone tells you how adorable they are.  Plus they cook a little faster.  Unfortunately, the generally accepted way to tell if a custard is done is to jiggle it and take it out of the oven when only about a quarter-sized part in the middle still jiggles.  This is called le jigglage in French.  You must learn all the proper French terms to be a good cook; no one will take you seriously if you don’t say “le jigglage.”  Despite the precision of this technique, it is useless when the entirety of your pie is the size of a quarter.  But that’s what thermometers are for.  In fact, as far as I’m concerned, thermometers are for everything that happens in the kitchen, with rare exceptions like buttering toast.  An egg yolk custard is done at about 160 degrees F.  Unfortunately, my thermometers didn’t seem to be working so well when I made these, so I still had to do a little guessing.  Perhaps I’ll start a Thermapen fund.

But ironically, the part I had the most trouble with was not burning the stupid crusts when I baked them before adding the filling.  I plain old forgot about them the first time.  The second time, I had a pan of water in the oven to help my custard cook slowly, and I didn’t want to risk taking out a pan of hot water, so I put the water on one side and slid in the crusts on the other side.  They touched the wall of the oven, and the ones on that side of the pan got positively black.  Don’t let your pans touch the oven wall.

Key limes are smaller, rounder, and yellower than regular limes.
Key limes are smaller, rounder, and yellower than regular limes.

I may have had to stay up until 3am to get them all baked properly, but my efforts paid off when my dessert was the first to be wiped out at my department’s picnic.  Yay for Florida’s state pie.  I used what appears to be the most popular key lime pie recipe on the internet, available here, for instance, in which the filling consists of only key lime juice, sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolks.  If you ignore the fact that you have to juice approximately a million key limes to get the juice, this is deliciously simple.  It does leave you with extra whites, though, which I froze in my blue ice cube trays, designated as Not Actually Ice.  I’m even trying to get another use out of the squeezed limes, but that’s another post….

Posted in baking

Hello there

You know those cooking blogs that have beautiful picture after beautiful picture of perfectly executed pastries and a French word in the title?  This is not one of those blogs.  I love to cook, but like most real people, things don’t always go as planned.  Hence the word “adventure.”  That’s a euphemism for “WTF, the jar of yeast said ‘refrigerate after opening’, so I did, and now it’s totally inactive”.  Which is tonight’s culinary adventure!

Since moving a couple weeks ago to start grad school, I have resolved to cook myself dinner on a regular basis, despite the fact that I am only one person and cooking for one person is less than inspiring.  Not to mention challenging if you dislike wasting food as much as I do.  So the other night I made Leftover Pizza, the toppings of which were the remains of all the food I had been eating during the week: asparagus, bacon, goat cheese, and canned diced tomatoes (which I blended for the sauce; I don’t like regular tomato sauce).  I made the dough from an authentic Italian recipe that is probably not very different from any other recipe you might find, which goes a little something like this (for 2 pizzas):

100.0 B%    198.7 g    2 c flour
79.8 B%    158.5 g    2/3 c water
1.6 B%    3.2 g    1 tsp active dry yeast
1.0 B%    2.0 g    1/2 teaspoon sugar
5.1 B%    10.1 g    2 tsp salt
2.3 B%    4.5 g    1 teaspoon oil

(B% means baker’s percentage.)

The dough, however, never rose.  I had an unleavened pizza.  Since pizza is supposed to be flat, this wasn’t so bad.  The fat dense crusts were pretty yummy, actually.  But it was so dense that it was hard to cut without messing up all the toppings.  I would post a picture, as is the custom on blogs about food, but it was not very pretty.  I told you this wasn’t that kind of blog.

But if you won’t be wowed by my culinary prowess and photographic skill, you may yet learn from my mistakes.  Today’s moral is: you must be careful not to kill your microscopic pets before you put them in a 500 degree oven.  Yeast are like lobsters that way.  Everyone says refrigerating yeast is good, so perhaps it just needs to be taken back to room temperature before it’s ready to pump out the CO2.  This website says just that (although I take that with a grain of salt, since the website also seems to say that yeast makes dough sticky and glutinous, which is patently false; the flour and water do that on their own).  Yeast grow best between 50 and 99 degrees F.  Refrigerators are at about 40 degrees F, so my yeast just didn’t have time to warm up and get metabolizing during the very short rise I gave my pizza.  Next time I’ll use warmer water and/or take the yeast out ahead of time.