Homemade Limoncello + Working Through the Summer

Homemade Limoncello shot 1

This is my first summer in the States since I’ve been back from Korea. I would like to say that I’m spending my time doing interesting, summery things, exploring my new area, and having new experiences. Instead, I’m spending my time being responsible. Boring. I got hired in a kitchen, working with an excellent chef who is “refreshed by my eagerness” to be trained. It’s not an internship, exactly, more like a way to gain experience and pay rent on time. I’m learning a lot: I’m learning how to stand for 10-11 hours straight. I’m learning how to stay calm and navigate the chaotic busy-ness of a large kitchen. I’m learning a lot of new classic French cuisine. I’m learning to quickly convert the outdated and insanely infuriating imperial measurement system that is still used in this country. And so on.

limoncello zest 2

It’s tough sometimes. I work weekends. I’m often too exhausted on my days off to take care of the things I’ve been meaning to take care of. There is little routine to my schedule besides the lengthiness of my shifts. I rarely cook for myself anymore (somehow being elbows deep in giant vats of food turns off some personal desires).

Homemade Limoncello in a jar

Still, I see this job as an excellent opportunity to get in some of the groundwork I need to succeed in this field. I love cooking. We’ve had a life long love affair.

Homemade Limoncello in a jar 1

Due to the summer heat, I’m going to offer you something to cool you off.

Limoncello is a relatively young Italian drink. Its history is just a little fuzzy (must’ve had a few too many). People from Sorrento, Amalfi, and Capri have claimed ownership of the original limoncello recipe since about 1900. It is said that monks or friars invented limoncello because the monastery inhabitants wanted to get a bit tipsy in-between prayers. It has been a well-loved aperitif and digestive all around Italy since its conception and is gaining popularity worldwide. It is extremely easy to make and extremely satisfying to consume. Being made with grain alcohol, limoncello is a strong beverage. I’ve been burned more than once by the tasty lemon flavour that fools me into believing I can keep drinking. You’ve been warned.

Homemade Limoncello shot

Limoncello is best enjoyed cold, so keep it stored in the freezer. So, kick back after a long day of work and beat the summer heat with this refreshing, delicious booze.

Limoncello

Ingredients

  • 12-15 lemons (or limes, tangerines, grapefruit or any combination of citrus you desire)
  • 25-30 ounces (750 mL) 95% or higher grain alcohol (I used Everclear, but vodka will do if it must)
  • 1 cup simple syrup

Directions

Sterilize your mason jar(s) by filling with boiling water. Pour out the water once it is cool enough to touch.

Using a microplane, zest the citrus. It is important to avoid getting pith (the white layer between the peel and fruit) into your zest as the flavour of your limoncello will be bitter if too much gets in.

Put the zest into your jar and pour the grain alcohol in with it. Seal jar and screw lid on tightly.

Shake the jar for about ten seconds.

Write the date you started your batch on a post-it note and stick it on the lid so you can keep track.

Place your jar in a visible place where you will remember to shake it twice a day for two weeks. Make sure to avoid direct sunlight.

After two weeks, put your jar in a cool, dark place and let it hibernate for about a month. During this time, the lemon zest will release an intense flavour that makes limoncello unique.

After a month, stir in the simple syrup, which can be made by boiling water and adding sugar at a 3:2 ratio. For every cup of water, use 2/3 cup of sugar. Let simple syrup cool before adding to the limoncello. Add syrup to taste. Replace in cool, dark place for two more weeks.

Strain the zest using a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Discard the zest.

Store in the freezer.

Pour yourself a shot of homemade limoncello, add a bit of simple syrup and sip that aperitif before meals like a boss or after meals as a digestive like royalty.

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Candied Ginger Week: Ginger Syrup and Pomegranate Cocktail

 

ginger syrup pomegrante spritzer.jpg

I thought I’d end Candied Ginger Week with a desperate plea for summer to arrive. I’m ready for you, summer. I’ve got my spritzer in hand and hot beaches in mind. Unfortunately, these days I need my other hand for my umbrella.

Homemade ginger syrup in jar.jpg

Ginger Syrup and Pomegranate Cocktail

 

Ingredients (for one cocktail)

  • 150-200ml (1/2 -3/4 cup) tonic water
  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1 tablespoon ginger syrup (recipe here)
  • A handful of fresh pomegranate seeds
  • Ice

 

Directions

 

Place pomegranate seeds in a glass and lightly crush them with a spoon.

Drop in as much ice as you’d like. Do not overcrowd the glass.

Add vodka and ginger syrup.

Top off with tonic water. Stir and serve.

ginger syrup pomegranate spritzer 2.jpg

The Cruel Realities of Kopi Luwak (a.k.a. Poo Coffee) + Adventures in Coffee Reduction

You may have noticed my most recent obsession with Bali and the images I took there. It’s true. The plant life, ocean, natural landscape, food and general gorgeousness of Bali have really helped to inspire me this winter. Though the photos have thus far not included a recipe, they have all been leading up to this post.

 Balinese coffee

I have been pretty fascinated with Kopi Luwak for some years now. Ever since I’d heard it was considered the most expensive beverage on the planet and was basically cleaned up cat poo, there was no turning this experience junkie around. 

 coffee plant

I enjoy thinking about the beginnings of foods. For example, who decided to eat blue cheese for the first time? Why did they think it would be a good idea? Who did all the fieldwork needed to figure out which mushrooms are edible and which would melt their insides? Why was it worth it to them? Who decided that soured milk, or yogurt, was ok to eat? And of course, who decided to pick up the droppings of a civet cat because they thought it would make an extra delicious espresso? I know many food traditions have been discovered out of need, but come on.

 kopi luwak beans

Kopi luwak got its beginnings in just that way. The civet, a cat like creature native to Indonesia, eats the choicest, ripest coffee beans as part of its diet. The beans then ferment in their digestive tract and come out whole because the civets are unable to digest them. Then, some people decided it would be a great idea to collect the wild civet poo, clean and roast the beans and call it a delicacy. A rare and expensive beverage. While in Bali, I made it a priority to seek kopi luwak out. My guide in Ubud brought me to an agro tourism farm called Bali Pulina. I was warmly greeted as soon as I walked onto the property and was given a small tour to show what they grew and produced. The place was beautiful. Several photos from my previous posts were taken there, including flowers, spices and one of the many amazing rice terraces that Ubud is known for.

 Coffee samples

In their little café, I was offered a free tasting of the beverages they produce and a fantastic overlooking view of the rice terrace. I sipped the teas, coffees and cocoas, tasting and enjoying them individually and comparing the results. They were all lovely, but I was far too focused on getting to the shop to buy luwak coffee. I finally got some. I brought it back to Korea and drank the shit out of that shit coffee. It produced a nutty, farmy coffee that was quite pleasant. It was exciting to compare it to the normal coffee I keep around the house and try it with different sugars and milks.

 cocoa beans in BaliBali mystery plantspices in bali

Unfortunately, with the slightest bit of research, I discovered information that made me regret having made my purchase. I found out that farmed civet coffee can never produce the desired results so sought after by coffee connoisseurs. This is because wild civets eat the ripe coffee beans as a part of a balanced diet including all the other things civets eat, while the animals on these plantations (often taken from the wild) are fed a diet made entirely of coffee beans. This is very unhealthy for the civets. And since there is nothing else in their guts, the beans don’t produce the desired flavours they once did. More importantly, farmed civets are often kept in horrendous conditions. They are shy and territorial by nature. Being kept in cramped cages so close to other civets is very stressful and often results in a loss of sanity and decrease in their health. Perhaps it was my enthusiasm for food and wildlife that kept me naïve, but learning this was heart-wrenching and I no longer wish to support the production of this culinary rarity. Though I certainly did savour the small amount I acquired there.

 

I was perhaps a little ambitious with this recipe. I cannot actually say it was a success. In fact, it was mostly a failure. I tried very hard to pair coffee with various flavours with nauseating results. I poured some on quail eggs and potatoes, dipped in some toast and even a tiny bite of pan-fried fish. I tried tasting it with random ingredients around my kitchen. The only success with this experiment, thus far, is in making me feel ill. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me. Luckily, the reduction itself is quite nice (albeit bitter) in small doses. When I’ve worked out what to pair it with, I’ll post something magical. Suggestions are welcome!

spiced coffee and red wine reduction.jpg

Spiced Coffee and Red Wine Reduction

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup strong coffee
  • 1/3 cup red cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • a piece of fresh ginger (about the size of a quarter), cleaned and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • ¼ teaspoon whole lavender flowers
  • ¼ teaspoon chopped dried lemongrass

Directions

While the coffee is still hot, pour it in a cup with the ginger, lavender, lemongrass, cardamom and cinnamon. Let the spices infuse for a 2-3 hours then strain.

Using a non-reactive skillet, pour in the wine, coffee and sugar. Simmer over medium high heat for about 10-15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by about half. Remove from heat.

Taste your coffee reduction with various things around your kitchen. Have blind taste tests with your friends. Laugh at the faces they make.

 

 

 

Dreaming of summer…

ginger syrup and pomegranate spritzer

… with this ginger syrup with fresh pomegranate spritzer.

Molecular Gastronomy: Layered Grapefruit Screwdriver Cocktails and Gainful Employment

 

 

Nice stems
Nice stems

I know its been a while. It has been a non-stop hair pulling fest around here. For the past month I’ve been in a whirlwind of resumes, preparations for interviews, interviews, random panic attacks brought on by said interviews and finally: Employment. Got me a job. What what! Of course, while all of this was going on, I went on a few previously scheduled trips, not knowing just how busy and insane I’d be feeling. A week in the California to visit my awesome sister, her awesome wife and their awesome cats, Christmas in D.C. to visit my awesome brother, his awesome wife and their awesome baby and New Years in the Eastern Townships of Quebec to visit a group of about 30 of the awesomest friends possible. Tequila, maple syrup and merguez sausages (not combined…although that really wouldn’t be so bad). What a party.

So, I’ll be back in Seoul by the end of February of 2013 to teach English to little kindergarteners. From my interview with the director and my contact with a Canadian girl who is currently working there, my new place of employment seems like a relaxed and supportive environment. Teachers seem to feel respected, happy and appreciative of the management. AND they get paid on time. Though I’ve never experienced it personally, it is not so uncommon to hear of  hagwon (private academies) paying their teachers late (or not at all), holding passports and/or diplomas hostage, finding absurd reasons to fire someone in the 11th month of their year long contract so they could avoid severance payment and a return flight and other such practices of a horrible work environment. Luckily for teachers looking for work in Korea, there is the Hagwon Blacklist. There, unhappy teachers can post their woes and warn others about their shitty school. Before accepting the job at EPA, I checked the Blacklist and found nothing. To my delight, a google search uncovered POSITIVE feedback about the school.

molecular gastronomy screwdriver 3

Wanting to celebrate all of this positivity, I made some gelatin grapefruit screwdrivers with a touch of molecular gastronomy. They turned out to be like large, fancy Jello cocktails. They were visually stunning and quite tasty.

Also, they were very bizarre. Gelatin always is. If I were to make gelatin screwdrivers again, I would make each individual drink a bit smaller and therefore less intimidating. While I went for a second glass, some of my friends (A.K.A. guinea pigs) could only manage a few bites.

molecular gastronomy screwdriver 2

I added some licorice powder to some of the top layers, which, as you can see, caused the gelatin to bleed into other layers and set in less appealing forms. Still, they tasted great, were fun to make and successfully got the drinker closer to being drunk.

Grapefruit Jello Screwdrivers

Ingredients

  • 8 ½ oz (250 ml) of vodka
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup grapefruit juice
  • 2 tbsp cold water soluble gelatin

Directions

Mix 1 tbsp of sugar with 1 tbsp of gelatin and the vodka. Blend until dissolved. Divide evenly into as many cups as you like. This could be up to 20, depending on what size you plan on making your Jello cocktail. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Next, mix 1 tbsp of gelatin with 1 tbsp of sugar and the grapefruit juice. Blend until dissolved. Pour a juice layer on top of the vodka layer. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Repeat until you have 6 alternating layers of vodka and juice.

Scoop into mouth.

Here are video instructions.