The MPS Speakeasy

Limoncello

A picture I found on the web, really I don’t wear black nail polish…

I think that as far as well-kept secrets go, that I love a good snort is probably the worst-kept secret of all. I think close runner-up must be that I love making some hooch now and then.

My wine-pairing teacher (from Chez Panisse, no less) praised me for my bitter tongue–if only he knew–and so my taste preference sends me towards Limoncello, that sweet/sour/bitter lemony delight from Italy seems like a natural fit. The problem is that most bottlings of Limoncello go too sweet (or too strong), and so I usually shun the stuff.

As regular readers might note, I’m not keen on flavored vodkas (or any vodka for that matter); the stuff doesn’t have a taste, it only has an effect, and I consider it to be the preferred drink of drunks. So please don’t tell me that citrus-flavored vodka is the same thing as Limoncello, it is not. Limoncello has a roundness to it, a flavor that rolls across all the taste buds, from the tip of your tongue to the back. Limoncello also has a mouth-feel; it is substantial without being viscous. At the end of the sip, you do not have that Nyquil my mouth and tongue is coated feeling.

Limoncello is usually served ice cold, in small glasses, and often as a shot. But that is also usually a mistake. While shooting Limoncello is certainly a possibility, you should reasonably linger over it as you might lemonade (which is also better cold and undiluted). Put the Limoncello in the freezer and put the glasses in the freezer, and serve it undiluted and well chilled. Sip it, admire the beauty of the person you are seducing (probably your wife or husband as Scissorheads are notoriously romantic and loyal), and enjoy the summer night.

Ingredients:

  • The yellow-only zest of 15 lemons (I use Meyer when in season, why not?)
  • 2 fifths of unflavored vodka, best quality you can afford at a reasonable price (see the tips below, too)
  • 4 Cups sugar (organic is best, pure cane sugar is great, avoid beet sugar)
  • 5 cups water (if you have good tap water, that’s best)

Make It:

  1. If you have a micro-plane grater or zester, now is the time to call it into action. If you do not have one, this is as good an excuse as any to buy one. 15 lemons is a lot to zest, this makes fast work, and you get no white pith. Make sure the lemons are washed and dried before you start.
  2. In a large glass jar (or other food-safe and non-reactive vessel), add the lemon zest and the vodka. Seal it well, shake it, and set it aside for 40 days. Make a note in your (computer’s) calendar for today + 40 days as the reminder. (Truthfully, you can do less, but 40 days–Biblical!–is best.)
  3. At the end of 40 days, combine the sugar and the water to make a simple syrup. Boil the sugar-water mixture for about 10 minutes (full, rolling boil, so use a big pan), remove from the heat, and let it cool.
  4. Add the cooled syrup to the Limoncello and stir it in. Let the full mixture rest for up to another 40 days. (Again, you can call it done in 10 days, but jeepers! Why make it easy on yourself?)
  5. OK, now, at the end of all this time (80 Days? Around the world in 80 days?!), strain the Limoncello. You can use a coffee filter, or whatever. Just separate the solids from the liquids.
  6. Put the finished Limoncello in the freezer. I usually pour it into smaller bottles, but whatever. When very chilled, serve shot glass-sized servings in frozen Old Fashioned glasses. After dinner. Always after dinner. On hot summer evenings. Perhaps with Frank or Dean singing something seductive.

I want to stress this: keep it in your freezer.

But wait! There’s more!

You knew this was coming, right?

  • Adventurous types: instead of the 2 bottles of vodka, you can use 1 bottle of grain alcohol. I don’t recommend this, but there is a frat boy in all of us.
  • My friends tell me that you can run cheap vodka (the stuff in plastic bottles often on sale at the local CVS–and I kid you not “White Wolf” is at mine) through a water-filter pitcher and suddenly it becomes a super-premium vodka. OK, so try it and report back to us.
  • My sister Eightgrain tells me that when she was in Italy the last time (that chick gets around), all the Limoncello had vanilla bean added to the mix. It sounds delightful — sort of like what a good semi-freddo might have in the lemon curd–but I think this might be a matter of taste; if you do this, I would add it to the sugar syrup at the end and filter the solid vanilla bean out with the coffee filter; I cannot offer advice on how long to let it seep.
  • I have served this with a rosemary twig as a garnish, and I think that works really well –if you like an herbal finish.
  • If you like the Lemon Drop cocktail, what the heck, use this instead of the vodka and see what happens. Roman Holiday!

(Seriously, if you have an addiction problem (or think you might), enjoy some good lemonade on a hot night. The seduction is up to you, but if you are a Scissorhead that should come pretty naturally to you.)

The MPS Speak-Easy: Vin d’Orange

When GRS and I were talking about starting the Speak-Easy feature, this simple French country-side sip came to mind. I made it one year for some coworkers as Christmas presents, and well, let’s just say it was a mystery why they all left work early and the next day called in sick.

When they did show up, they told me it was French White Lightening. I think Madame would be pleased.

This is a really simple thing to make, basically it is a fortified wine. And now that we are in orange season, all you really need to do is save some peels from the oranges you enjoyed eating and dry them in the oven (and they make the house smell wonderful), and they make the finished vin have a deeper caramel color and flavor.

Fair Warning: this does not taste as strong as it is, so let my co-workers story be your guide. It will sneak up on you.

Ingredients:

  • Dried peels from 6 small oranges
  • 1 Fifth dry red wine – like a Zin
  • 3/4 Cup of sugar
  • 1/2 Cup of Vodka

Make it:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°. Spread the orange peels on a baking sheet and toast them, turning them now and again. When the pith (the white part) is golden and the outside has turned deep orange, they are done. It takes about 45 minutes for me.
  2. Place the wine, sugar, vodka, and dried orange peels in a clean dry jar with a lid and put it in a cool dark place.
  3. Daily for the first week, shake the jar. When you notice that the sugar is dissolved, you can stop doing the daily shake.
  4. Let it sit for at least a month, preferably longer.
  5. Strain the wine through a fine strainer and discard the peels. Decant into dry and cleaned wine bottles, cork them and store in a cool, dark place until you are ready to enjoy it.

Here’s a tip: you can re-use your old wine corks by boiling them in water for a few minutes. They soften up and then you can jam them into the wine bottles. Re-use, reduce, recycle!

While oranges are in season, I try to make a batch of this at least monthly so I can lay down a small stock to last for a while. There is nothing better than a glass of this (on the rocks) on a warm summer evening, shared with some friends before dinner.

A little splash of this in a flute of champagne is really good.

The MPS Speakeasy

Welcome to the MPS Speakeasy! Just in time for the holidays, MPS is offering a bevy of beverage recipes to help celebrate the season. This first installment is brought to you by the letter Beer! Don’t be scared. Making your own beer is easy and it’s delicious. Beer is the reason we have agriculture. If ancient humans could make beer, you bet you can too.

Continue reading how to make your holiday beer…

Tengrain’s Little Cooking School: Rhubarb-Lavender Cocktails

Click for tigress can jam food blog challengeThis month in the Tigresses’ Canning Challenge, the secret ingredient is rhubarb (or asparagus); I made things from both ingredients before I left on the trip, and brought the pickled asparagus spears with me in the hamper on the train, and it was delish.

And sadly, like the idjit I am, I did not write down the recipe before leaving.

That said, I did write down the recipe for the base of this cocktail, I did can it, and it did come out so well, it will be featured at the annual barbecue here at the Hut. I highly recommend you make this cocktail (if you are so inclined and do not have abuse issues), but you do not have to can the cordial to make the cocktail; it will probably keep for a several weeks in the ice box without processing it.

Rhubarb and Angelica Cordial from Laundry, Etc.

Anyway, as you may recall from last month’s challenge for herbs, I paired lavender with rhubarb and it was a winner. I wanted to do something similar for this month’s challenge, but not have it be jam. Last month, there was an entry for Rhubarb and Angelica cordials from one of the British food bloggers, Laundry Etc., that really intrigued me. So, in short I built my entry this month upon the success of her entry last month, and the research I did on the lavender-rhubarb jam I made last month.

The secret to working with lavender is to get the right amount of flower-power in your product without going too far. If you add too many lavender blossoms, you really do end up with something that tastes like very good soap — and I had my mouth washed out enough as a young ‘Grain to know.

So let’s get on with it, shall we?

Continue reading

My ReadyMade post for May 20

True Story: I had something else to post when we had a little earthquake, and my magazines, which were precariously stacked on the edge of the table near my favorite chair, fell over.

Because my design philosophy is that design should always first be about problem solving, this little project flashed through my mind — it solves some of my obsessive magazine collecting by allowing me to organize and store them

You can, of course, decorate the binders, too.

Update: I received an email from a ReadyMade reader telling me that there is no such word as trembler, or that I was using it wrong, or something. At anyrate, I’m glad this one is being read. I checked the stats on it at ReadyMade, and it is being linked wildly all over the place. Success!

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small-binding.jpgMy big stack of ReadyMade back issues fell over during a trembler we had over the weekend, and the event shook a some sense into me: I realized my slovenly ways must come to an end. If you too have a stack of magazines that you intend to will to your children because they are so special [Editor's note: Awww, Kevin, you're too sweet!], here’s a cheap and easy way to organize them.

Ingredients:

  • Binders (Where I work, everyone is constantly throwing out binders. You can probably get some for free if you just look around.)
  • Twine or string

Tools:

  • Scissors

Make it:

  1. Measure the spine of your magazine, double the measurement, and add a couple of extra inches to the number. This becomes the length of twine you need. Cut a length of twine to this measurement for each magazine you have that you want to keep.
  2. Open each magazine to about the midpoint. Lay the string down the spine, through the magazine like a bookmark, and tie the ends together to make a loop. Keep the knot on the outside of the magazine.
  3. Slip the string inside of the three rings on the binder.
  4. Store your binder of magazines up on a shelf, and admire the organization you just brought to your workspace, practically for free.

My Readymade Post for March 25

My sister, Whole Wheat, and I go to the SF Garden Show every year, it is part of our birthday tradition. I wonder around like the garden geek that I am, and we take copious notes and pictures. Somewhere along the line we stop for wine and cheese, and then we go shopping. And usually, at the end of the day we buy some chocolate to nibble on as we head back to the car.

This year there were a lot of very creative ideas, but admittedly, the UC Berkeley landscape architecture students really made some amazing things. I may have to borrow steal these. Especially the wine cork pathways. I hate to say it, but I think I have enough corks to do it…

bottle-light.jpg

I spent the day at the SF Garden Show — and there were some great ReadyMade ideas. While all the exhibits were really wonderful, the one that stood apart from the rest was from the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning.

The students chose as their theme, “Wine Re-Defined – Structure, balance, and bouquet in the urban garden.” All of the materials they used came directly or indirectly from the wine industry.

Here are three ideas from their exhibit that grabbed my attention: (you can click on the image for a larger view)

bottle-light-detail.jpg

Lights – the lights used recycled wine bottles on what appear to be a simple cord. The bottoms of the bottles were cleanly removed. (The glass polished, there were no sharp edges.)

small-bench.jpg

Furniture: the furniture in the display garden was made from recycled wine barrels. The statuary was made from the barrel hoops. Notice the rich, red color — the wood was stained from the red wine.

cork-path1.jpg

Paths: the paths were made of wine bottle corks, set on end in some sort of gravel/concrete mix. cork-path-detail.jpgThe last picture is a detail shot of the cork.

One of the students told me that there are 721 corks in each flagstone, and then smiled and said it was a fun group project.

My ReadyMade Post for Feb. 25

Guess who just picked up some art from the framing shop?

hanging a picture.jpg

I’ve never been good at hanging pictures. I can never get them positioned right, and then when I finally commit to where I want them to go, I cannot execute the design. Usually I end up calling over a friend who “stages” houses for a real estate company. He finally taught me the tricks of the trade. Here’s how the pro’s hang pictures:

Ingredients:

  • Brown craft paper, cut to the exact dimension of your art
  • Art

Tools:

  • Hammer
  • Picture hook or nails
  • Yellow Stickies
  • Pencil
  • Low-tack tape
  • Measuring tape

Hang it:

  1. Using the craft paper cut to the exact size of your art, make an arrangement of the art shapes that pleases you, and using the low-tack tape put this up on the wall in the exact location where you intend to hang the real art.
  2. Flip your art over. Align the top of the yellow sticky with the top edge of your art.
  3. Using your intended picture hook (or the nail) mark on the yellow sticky the high point of the hanging wire. This is the point where the wire will hang on the nail. Mark it with your pencil.
  4. Remove the yellow sticky and go back to the craft paper on the wall. Align the top of the yellow sticky with the top edge of the craft paper, and center it.
  5. Attach the picture hook to the wall so that the hook is on top of the exact mark on the yellow sticky. You can tear away all the paper once you have attached the picture hook to the wall.
  6. Hang your art on the hook.