Saturday, March 31, 2012

Using the Early Herbs! – March 31, 2012

My husband, John, and I just returned from vacation to find that Louisville has already reached mid-Spring even though it is only the end of March.  Our grass (and weeds) are high and the beds are being taken over by vines.  We’ve been working to uncover the Spring flowers and shrubs and found that our herbs are already in full bloom.  We have oregano, chives, mint and lavender that come back each year.  I also plant purple basil, parsley and dill each year to add to recipes throughout the summer.  You can see that our chives are already flowering, so I decided to make a salad that would make good use of the chives and parsley already in full growth.  Here it is and, it is delicious!

Chickpea and Raisin Salad

1 cup raisins (golden are prettier)
¼ c. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
15.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained
1 c. fresh parsley (or cilantro) chopped
6 chives thinly cut \
1/3 c. olive oil
½ tsp. ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Combine raisins, vinegar and sugar in pan and bring to simmer, let cool.  In a large bowl, mix cooled raisins with other ingredients and serve.   

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Using up Egg Yolks and Whites (or Lemon Curd and Angel Food Cake) - March 8, 2012

I admit that sometimes I get carried away with my interest in saving food from the compost pile.  My husband and I love to make limoncello for our friends during the holidays.  Last time we did this, I was tired of using the left over lemons for lemonade, so I made my first Lemon Curd. 

Lemon Curd

3 oz. (6 T.) unsalted butter, softened at room temp.
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 c. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon zest (optional)

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer, about two minutes.  Slowly add the eggs and yolks.  Beat for one minute.  Mix in the lemon juice.  The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.

In a medium heavy saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth.  Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes.  It should leave a path on the back of a spoon and will read 170 degrees on a thermometer.  Don't let it boil.

Remove the curd from the heat; stir in the lemon zest (I often leave this out because I like a smooth curd if making tarts).  Transfer the curd to a bowl.  Press plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming and chill in the refrigerator.  The curd will thicken further as it cools.  It will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for two months.  My friend Mary makes all kinds of things with lemon curd including this gorgeous lemon souffle.

It was delicious but required the use of egg yolks leaving me with several egg whites.  I decided to make this fabulous Angel Food Cake which is good any time, but especially good in the early summer with fresh berries.  It’s also great with lemon curd.  You can make several angel food cakes and freeze but they do dry out a bit when defrosted. 

Angel Food Cake
1 1/2 cups egg whites (about 12 large eggs)
1 cup plus one T. sifted cake flour
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Separate the eggs, adding the whites to a liquid measuring cup until you have 1 1/2 cups.  It will take about 12 large eggs.  Let the whites sit about 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sift o whisk the flour before measuring.  Add about half the sugar to the flour and sift or whisk again.  Beat the egg whites in a large bowl, adding the salt and the cream of tartar to the whites as soon as they become foamy.  Continue beating.  As soft peaks begin to form, add the remaining sugar and extracts.  Beat until peaks form.  

Using a spatula, gently fold the flour and sugar mixture into the egg whites.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl for the flour or the mixture will sink.  Mix only until the flour is moistened.  Scrape the batter into a ten-inch tube pan or two bread pans and bake immediately.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the cake is done.  When the cake is removed from the oven, immediately invert the tube pan on the counter.  Many tube pans have legs for this purpose or you can invert the pan over a narrow-necked bottle inserted into the tube.

Do you have other great ideas to use up egg yolks or egg whites?  What about great ways to serve angel food cake besides the traditional berries and whipped cream?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lemon Zest at Its Best – March 3, 2012

John, my husband, and I love to make gift baskets over the holidays.  They are always more fun when you can include homemade items.  I contribute homemade mounds and stained glass ornaments.  His specialties are chocolate covered toffee and mixed cds.  But there is one thing we always make together – limoncello.  I first tasted limoncello when in Italy, but it was the cheap bottled kind sold to tourists and had an acidic aftertaste I didn’t care for.  But on a trip to Chicago, my husband and I saw that an Italian restaurant had limoncello made in house so we had it as an aperitif and it was delicious. We went home and searched for recipes to see how hard it would be and started experimenting.

I am happy to say that limoncello is very easy to make, but it takes a long time (minimum of 80 days), so you have to plan ahead.  It is also best when served very cold on a summer night, so March is a great time to start for a summer batch.  Limoncello also uses the zest only from the lemons, so it is best to start when you are ready to make a big batch of fresh lemonaid or lemon curd which I’ll talk about in my next post.


15 thick skinned organic lemons
2 750 ml bottles of 100 proof vodka (or you can use one vodka and one pure grain alcohol for a smoother taste but it is higher in alcohol content)
4 cups sugar
5 cups water

Wash lemons well and dry.  Peel the zest from lemons avoiding the pith.  Soak the zest in a large pickle jar (or other large glass jar) in one bottle of the vodka for 40 days.  The jar should be covered and left at room temperature in a dark place.  After the 40 days have passed, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to boil thickening about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Add to the limoncello mixture along with the other bottle of vodka.  Cover and return to the dark spot for another 40 days.  After at least 40 more days, strain and bottle.  Store in cupboard or freezer.

**We tried Tito's handmade vodka from Austin this year which is smoother than many large production vodkas but not as expensive as most small batch versions.  The smoothest limoncello is made with just pure grain alcohol, but it is so high in alcohol you really have to be careful about drinking.  We also tried making our last batch with natural sugar.  The taste was very nice, but it gave the limoncello an orange coloring and requires you to shake before serving because the sugar settles in the bottle.