Sunday, March 31, 2013

{DIY} Arancello and Limoncello {#SundaySupper + National Oranges & Lemons Day}

DIY Arancello and Limoncello 4 @ http://www.girlichef.com/2013/03/ArancelloLimoncelloDIY.html
I'm not gonna deny it.  When somebody (myself included) mentions Limoncello, my mind wanders to Positano.  I long to sip a chilled glass of the sweet, yet tangy yellow liqueur under the shade of an umbrella staring out at the stunning Amalfi coast.  While gazing into deep eyes of one dreamy Marcello.  (Figuratively, of course.  I am a married woman, afterall.)
Positano photo by Wikipedia user Jensens used under condition of Public Domain.
But until I can get myself to Positano, making Limoncello at home will have to suffice.  Fortunately, the past couple days have actually been sunny, warm (comparatively), and completely Spring-like.  If I make sure to sit in the sun (no umbrella), and if I close my eyes and concentrate really hard, I can conjur up my own little personal Positano.

Lately, I've been in a real boozin' & infusin' and liqueur-makin' mood!  And in anticipation of an exciting giveaway coming up at the end of this week (seriously, come back Friday), I have tons of jars in all different sizes tucked into cupboards and dark spots in the house.  They're filled liquor and things like citrus zest, spices, herbs, coffee, ginger, vanilla, and all sorts of other bits and bobs that are going to make them taste fantastic!
zesting lemons and oranges for DIY Arancello and Limoncello @ http://www.girlichef.com/2013/03/ArancelloLimoncelloDIY.html
This lemon-based obsession of mine and its look-alike orange-based cousin were my first two batches to be bottled.  (Okay, that's if you don't include Irish Cream...since there's no infusing time involved, it's almost in a class of its own.)  Three weeks swimming in vodka sucked all of the oils, and in turn the flavor from the zest of the citrus fruits.  All that you need to do is add about an equal amount of simple syrup to the strained liquor to turn it into magic.  Liquid magic.

No really, this stuff is strong.  After one glass, you won't be able to argue the whole "magic" thing.

{DIY} Arancello and Limoncello

by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 2-4 weeks
Cook Time: n/a
Keywords: beverage alcohol lemons oranges vodka Italian

Ingredients (~1500 ml / ~51 fluid ounces)
  • 8 oranges (for Arancello) or 8 lemons (for Limoncello)
  • 750 ml vodka (80 proof / 40% alcohol)
  • 2 c. granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 c. water
Instructions
Rinse and scrub your oranges or lemons and pat them dry using paper towels or clean kitchen towels. Remove the peel from the fruit, leaving all of the inner white part (pith) behind (this will make your liqueur bitter). You can use a vegetable peeler (fat strips) or a 4-hole citrus zester (thin strips) to do this.

Put the peel into a jar that is large enough to hold all of the vodka, and then pour the vodka over the peel. Seal tightly and set in a cool dark place to infuse for 3-4 weeks; turn and gently shake the jars every few days if you think about it.

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil for 1 minute, until sugar is completely dissolved. Cool completely.

Strain the vodka and combine it with the simple syrup, stir well. If you don't have a large enough container to do this all at once, use a large measuring cup, adding equal parts vodka and simple syrup. Use a funnel to transfer to sterilized glass bottles in your choice of size and shape.
straining Limoncello @ http://www.girlichef.com/2013/03/ArancelloLimoncelloDIY.html
You do not need to refrigerate the Arancello or Limoncello, but it should be served icy cold, so put a bottle into the fridge at least a day before you want to serve it (or serve over ice).

note:
I made a batch of Arancello and a batch of Limoncello at the same time. I was hoping that the Arancello would have an orange tint, but sadly, both liqueurs turned out the same color. Be sure to label your jars so you don't mix them up.

Arancello/Limoncello will keep, in a cool, dark spot for at least one year.
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DIY Arancello and Limoncello 3 @ http://www.girlichef.com/2013/03/ArancelloLimoncelloDIY.html
Since today has been deemed National Oranges and Lemons Day, the #SundaySupper crew decided that a citrus-infused menu was in order.  Check out what everybody is bringing to the table this week, along with our host, Jen from Juanita's Cocina!

Better with Citrus Breakfasts:
Big On Citrus Breads & Condiments:
Make You Pucker Salads, Sides, & Main Dishes:
Sour Citrusy Sweets & Desserts:
Sour Sips & Drinks:
Sunday Supper MovementI'd love to hear about some of your favorite dishes and recipes using Oranges, Lemons, and other Citrus Fruits!  Feel free to leave links and/or recipes in the comments.  Also, please join us for our live twitter chat tonight at 7pm (Eastern) using the#SundaySupper hashtag, and check out the Sunday Supper board on Pinterest


Friday, March 29, 2013

Ultimate Oatmeal, Steel Cut Oats, and a feature at Momma's Meals!


Today I'm being featured by the incredibly sweet, proud-to-be-called Momma, Tammi.  Tammi blogs about momma-hood, family, and food at Momma's Meals.  On Fridays, Tammi loves to give some love to other food and momma bloggers on her Featured Friday series.  I'm so honored that she picked me today!  And I cannot believe she actually picked TWO things to make from my blog.  She's sharing her experience at her place - I hope you'll go over to see what she made and say HELLO!

Aaaaaand, since she's making something from my blog, I decided to make something from hers, as well.  I'll be making Steel Cut Oatmeal with a couple of variations, including her version that inspired me today, Momma's Ultimate Oatmeal.
I grew up eating oatmeal.  I've always liked it.  Though, I openly admit, that as a kid, it was those little individual packages that I tore open and then poured boiling water over.  Mmm hmm - instant oatmeal.  Apple Cinnamon was my favorite.  But hey, at least I ate my oatmeal... I can't get my kids to touch the stuff! I've tried everything.  All varieties (even the instant).

I'll keep trying to convince them, but fortunately my husband needs no convincing, so I can make a big pot and be assured that it will not go to waste.  I think the first time I tried Steel Cut Oats was about 13 or 14 years ago.  Also known as Pinhead Oats or Irish Oats, they're meaty texture became my fast favorite.  It doesn't take much more time to make than it does a pot of regular oats, but somehow, it seems so much more satisfying.

I usually buy this variety of Bob's Red Mill, it's available pretty much everywhere around here (but I know they have quick-cooking and organic options, as well).  And they're delicious.  The recipe I use to make a basic batch is just the one from the back of their bag.

Steel Cut Oatmeal
yield: 4 servings

1 c. Steel Cut Otas
3 c. water
pinch salt

Place everything into a pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a low simmer; cover and cook for 10-20 minutes (al dente - creamy), stirring from time to time.  Remove from heat and let stand for a couple of minutes.

The only hard part is deciding what you want to put in to your oatmeal (unless you're a purist and like it as-is...I've never actually met anybody like that, though).
I have two personal favorites - the basic milk + brown sugar combination and what I like to affectionately call "eat breakfast naked oatmeal".  I have to say, though...after trying Momma's Ultimate Oatmeal add-ins, I was smitten.  Occasionally I'll add chocolate.  Apple-Cinnamon is always good (whether you use applesauce or sauteed apples).  Occasionally I'll add ripe berries and honey.  Other times orange zest, pecans, and maple syrup.  Peaches and a good drizzle of heavy cream with raw sugar.  Dried fruit is always good.

How 'bout you... what are your favorite oatmeal add-ins?  Do you prefer steel cut, rolled, or instant oats?


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Queso Flameado w/ Shrimp & Salsa Ranchera {she made, ella hace}

It's that time again!  Time for me to hang out in the kitchen with one of my favorite amigas, Leslie for she made, ella hace!  This month has flown by so quickly, but we didn't want it to pass us by completely.  Our theme for this month is shrimp.

When I told mi esposo what I was making today, he laughed so hard that tears were threatening to burst from the corners of his eyes.  Ummmm....

I was all like: "What!?"
Him, between fits:  "In Mexico, we call this {sticking his butt out and making a forceful whooshing sound} flameado!"
Me: "Nuh-uh!  Bwaa haaa haaa haaa!"

He told me more.  We laughed harder.  We are twelve-year olds.
And then I got back to the matter at hand, which was melting cheese, piling a steaming mound of salsa-bathed shrimp in the center of it, and subsequently lighting it on fire.  It was ridiculous.  I mean, come on.  A skillet full of bubbly, melty cheese that I can spoon onto a warm tortilla.  Shrimp in a spicy bath of charred veggies that pops between my teeth releasing an explosion of smoky delight.  Oh, and there's tequila involved.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Well, maybe Leslie's Tequila-Lime Shrimp Tacos.  I say one for brunch... and one for lupper.

Queso Flameado w/ Shrimp & Salsa Ranchera

by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Keywords: bake broil appetizer cheese vegetarian cheese chiles shrimp tomatoes Super Bowl tailgating American

Ingredients (serves 4)
    for the Salsa Ranchera:
    • 2 jalapeños, stemmed
    • 3 fat cloves garlic, peeled
    • 1 small yellow onion, peeled & quartered
    • 1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes w/ their juices
    • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
    • 1/2 tsp. smoked sea salt
    • small handful cilantro
    for the shrimp and marinade:
    • 1 lb. shrimp, peeled & deveined
    • 2 tsp. olive oil
    • 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
    • 1/4 tsp. smoked sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
    • 1 fat clove garlic, minced
    for the queso flameado:
    • 16 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
    • 1 Tbs. Casa Noble Tequila (or another good tequila)
    to serve:
    • warm tortillas (corn or flour)
    Instructions
    make the salsa:
    Preheat your broiler and set a sheet of foil under it. Set the jalapeños, garlic, and onion on the foil and broil until charred, turning to get all sides, 8-10 minutes. You may need to pull the garlic cloves out earlier, you don't want them to burn. Place the charred veggies into the jar of a blender along with the rest of the salsa ingredients. Pulse to combine; salsa will be somewhat chunky...more like, textured...not completely smooth. Set aside.
    for the queso and shrimp:
    Preheat the oven to 350° F.

    Place the shrimp in a small bowl or baggie along with all of the marinade ingredients. Set aside for 15 minutes or so.

    Spray an 8-inch cast-iron skillet (or casserole dish that is about the same size) with cooking spray. Set the shredded cheese in the skillet - it will be a big heap, that's okay. Slide into preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until melted and bubbling around the edges.

    While the cheese is melting, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat and pour the shrimp (garlic and liquid and all) into the hot skillet. Saute until pink and cooked through, 2-3 minutes. Add the reserved salsa and cook until heated through, another minute or two.

    Remove the cheese from the oven and pour the shrimp and salsa mixture directly onto the center of the cheese.

    Pour the tequila around the outside onto the exposed cheese and very carefully light with a long match. The alcohol will burn off in the fire...and it makes quite a show, so make sure there's people around to see it!

    Serve immediately by spooning it into warm tortillas.

    notes:
    You can make this without flaming the tequila at the end, if you choose... either leave it out completely or stir it into the shrimp with the salsa.

    inspired by and adapted from Homesick Texan
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    What happens when two American girls who are both married to Mexican guys find out that although one of them lives in the U.S. and one of them lives in Mexico, they both love eating the same food?  Well, naturally they decide to get "together" the only way they can and cook up the same dishes.  Or perhaps take the same ingredients and talking about them in their own voice or using them in their own way. 

    Leslie and I have teamed up to occasionally cook/bake/make a our own versions of the same food.  We want to see how similar (or how different) they turn out.  Other times we will pick an ingredient and use it however we choose...or maybe just talk about it.  Good food knows no borders and we hope to share the food we love with you.  It's not a competition, it's a showcase.  We will post on the same day as each other and would love to hear your thoughts on what we've made and how you make it. 

    Join me (here at girlichef) and Leslie in her kitchen (at La Cocina de Leslie) for some delicious food.
    She Made, Ella Hace Banner- girlichef.com and lacocinadeleslie.com


    Tuesday, March 26, 2013

    Oxtail Ragú over 4-Cheese Macaroni

    Although it is officially Spring, you'd never be able to tell it by the snow boots still strewn all over our entryway.  Instead of witnessing quiet birds huddled together in the tree in my front yard, I want to hear a raucous racket of tweets and chirps that won't let me sleep!  I want to see tender green shoots with buds emerging from the ground, as opposed to those brittle remains of the last time we didn't have to pull on hats and gloves when we walked out the front door.

    Phil lied.  I always knew he was unreliable.
    So, it's with visions of Spring cleaning (really) in my head, I'm balancing bouts of cabin fever with a few last hurrahs of hunkering down with comfort food.  I know it shouldn't be stick-to-your-ribs meal time anymore.  I do.  However, I find braised meat that is not only pull-apart tender, but rich and warm like a blanket, enough to make me enjoy this still-frigid weather.  Winter's final hurrah, if  you will.

    But don't tell Phil I said that.  I'm still not talking to him.

    Oxtail Ragú over 4-Cheese Macaroni

    by Heather Schmitt-González
    Prep Time: 30 minutes (includes meat-pull
    Cook Time: ~2½ hours
    Keywords: braised entree beef cheese pasta oxtails

    Ingredients (serves 8-10)
      for the oxtail ragu:
      • 3 lbs. oxtails, 2-inch sections
      • kosher salt
      • freshly ground black pepper
      • 2 Tbs. olive, corn, or vegetable oil
      • ~1 c. all-purpose flour, for dredging
      • 3 small onions, thinly sliced
      • 4 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
      • 1 small carrot, carrot
      • 1 sprig fresh thyme
      • 1 bay leaf
      • 2 c. red wine
      • 2 c. Pomì strained tomatoes
      • 3 c. beef stock or broth
      for the four-cheese macaroni:
      • 1 lb. cavatappi
      • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
      • 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
      • 2 c. whole milk
      • ¼ tsp. salt
      • ¼ tsp. ground white pepper
      • 18 oz. shredded white cheese (I used a mixture of Aged Irish Cheddar, Dubliner, Gouda, and Swiss)
      to serve:
      • fresh parsley, chopped
      Instructions
      making the oxtail ragu:
      Preheat oven to 375° F.

      Trim any excess fat from oxtails and season liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge them in flour. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over high heat until it is very, very hot. Add prepared oxtails and sear them on all sides until browned, ~8-10 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside. Drain all but one tablespoon of grease from the pot and return to heat.
      Add onions to same pot, stirring almost constantly, until browned, ~5-7 mins. Add garlic, carrot, and herbs to the pot and saute for another 5 minutes. Add wine and let bubble for about 1 minute. Add the Pomì tomatoes and the beef stock and bring to a boil; let bubble for 5-10 minutes before carefully adding the oxtails to the pot. Cover and slide into preheated oven for 1½-2 hours, or until meat is falling off bone.

      Remove pot from oven and carefully remove oxtails to a bowl or plate. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and shred into small pieces with a fork. Also remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaf at this point.
      Discard the bones (or save for another purpose, if you wish. I give mine to my husband and he gets ridiculously giddy).

      Skim the fat from the surface of the sauce, and then return the shredded meat to the pot. At this point, you should have a very thick ragú. If by chance it is not thick, set over medium heat and reduce until thick. Taste and adjust seasoning, as needed.

      Serve over 4-Cheese Macaroni, sprinkled with parsley.
      making the Macaroni and Cheese
      When the ragu is almost ready to come out of the oven, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the cavatappi and boil for 8 minutes.

      In the meantime, melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and whisk in the flour to form a roux; cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, salt, and white pepper until smooth and bring just to the simmer. Let bubble until thick and then turn off heat. Whisk in the cheeses until melted.

      Drain the cavatappi and toss with the cheese sauce. Serve immediately with the oxtail ragu over the top.

      notes:
      Refrigerate leftovers tightly covered for up to 3 days.
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      And by Phil, I mean that lying groundhog.

      I received two free cartons of Pomì Tomatoes for tasting purposes.  All opinions stated in this post are my own.


      Monday, March 25, 2013

      Hot Cross Cinnamon Buns

      Hot Cross Cinnamon Buns | www.girlichef.com
      I love food with a story...with history.  You can find many variations for the beginnings of Hot Cross Buns.  Probably originally called simply "cross buns", they were sold hot - earning the expansion of their name.  Whether their lore lies in Pagan or Christian roots is probably the biggest debate.  But, like many beliefs, there is a golden thread of truth that runs throughout each sect to connect them all.

      It is that that for most of time, bakers have marked their buns, breads, and other baked goods with a cross to ward off the evils spirits (this gives them an escape) that could cause the bread to go stale or moldy.

      Hot Cross Buns were often studded with dried fruit and warming spices such as cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.  Some even believed in their healing properties.  When made at home, one from each batch would be allowed to dry - this bun was considered good luck and hung in the kitchen for 12 months.  It was believed to ward of fire, but could also be grated and sprinkled into medicine to ward off disease.


      Thursday, March 21, 2013

      General Tso's Chicken ...inspired by How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days {food 'n flix}

      This month's Food 'n Flix selection is not one that I would coin an actual "foodie flick", but somehow it worked.  Our host this month is Tina from Squirrel Head Manor; her choice - How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.  And I love it that she picked something  unexpected!

      I will admit that I cringed a bit when I first heard her choice, though.  Why's that, you ask?  It's not because I don't love chick-flicks (I totally do.  I love them).  Plus, I remember liking the movie when I saw it years ago.  But you know how some "stars" can begin to wear on your last nerve over time?  Well, that's the case with Kate Hudson.  Oh, and even though I probably shouldn't admit it, it's also the case with Matthew McConaughey.  Don't hate me girls.

      I used to look forward to seeing Kate and her adorable self.  She was like Meg Ryan (you know what I'm talking about, right?).  Sweet, pretty, and yet relatable.  And then she and Chris Robinson got a divorce.  By the time she dated A-Rod (not a fan), I lost interest.  Again, sort of like the whole Meg Ryan affair with Russell Crowe.  A shift in perception.

      And Matthew.  I don't know.  My favorite role of his is still Wooderson.  He IS Wooderson.  But lately...no.  Something else I hate to admit - I didn't like him in Magic Mike.  I know, I know.  Revoking my girl card.
      But back to the matter at hand.  When I watched this movie again after all these years, I remembered why (and when) I liked both of them.  The chemistry is great.  The story is fun.  Food plays a minor role, but it's there.

      Basically, Andie Anderson is a writer who wants to write serious stories about things that matter, but she's stuck writing fluff.  Drawing inspiration from her friend's (and many other women's) mistakes they make while dating, she comes up with a story idea.  She will date a guy and commit every single dating no-no imaginable.  Basically, she'll make a guy fall for her and subsequently loathe her within the course of ten days.  On the flip side, Ben Barry makes a bet with his boss that he can make a woman (any woman) fall in love with him by a certain time next week (coincidentally...ahem...about ten days from then), so that he can land a certain advertising account.

      Let the games begin!

      From popcorn in the movies, to hot dogs on the street, to pizza and cosmos on a rooftop, to a home-cooked lamb with cherry glaze, wine, and carrots to a broccoli and asparagus casserole to cucumber sandwiches to snowcones - there's plenty of little tasty bits floating about.

      If you haven't seen the flick, you can probably guess that everything goes to pot before the happy ending (it's a chick-flick, people).  But since they do come together in the end, I decided to make a dish that I think they'd love to go out and eat together.  As a REAL couple.  Something they can find by walking the New York streets together.  Something they can have fun eating - chopsticks and sweat-beaded foreheads.  Something they can even take away in carry-out boxes on the back of Ben's bike.  I made them a meal that my husband and I love to eat together - our favorite Chinese take-out food... General Tso's Chicken!

      General Tso's Chicken

      by Heather Schmitt-González
      Prep Time: 30-60 minutes
      Cook Time: ~20 minutes
      Keywords: fry entree chiles chicken Asian Chinese

      Ingredients (serves 4-6)
      • ~3 lbs. boneless chicken breasts (4 fat ones)
      for marinade and sauce:
      • ½ c. hoisin sauce
      • ¼ c. white vinegar
      • 3 Tbs. soy sauce
      • 3 Tbs. sugar
      • 2 Tbs. cornstarch
      • 1½ c. water
      • 1 Tbs. corn, peanut, olive, or vegetable oil
      • 4 garlic cloves, minced
      • 2 Tbs. freshly grated ginger
      • 2 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
      for coating the chicken:
      • 3 egg whites
      • 1½ c. cornstarch
      • ½ c. all-purpose flour
      • ½ tsp. baking soda
      for frying:
      • corn, peanut, or vegetable oil
      to serve:
      • cooked rice or noodles
      • sliced scallions, optional
      Instructions
      Cut the chicken breasts into ~1-inch pieces. Place into a gallon-size zippered baggie.

      Whisk the hoisin, vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch, and water together in a small bowl. Add 6 tablespoons of this to the baggie with the chicken. Seal the baggie and smoosh it around so that the marinade coats all of the chicken pieces. Set aside (refrigerate, if you like, but it won't hurt to sit out for up to one hour at room temperature) to marinate for 30-60 minutes.

      While the chicken is marinating, heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add garlic, ginger, and red chile flakes and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the remaining marinade to the pan and bring to a simmer while whisking. Continue to simmer and whisk until the sauce has thickened and turned darker, 3-5 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.

      Tip the chicken out into a colander that has been set in the sink and allow to drain for 10 minutes. Beat the egg whites until foamy in a large bowl. Whisk together the cornstarch, flour, and baking soda in a second large bowl. Pour oil to a depth of 1-2" in a heavy-bottomed pot with deep sides over medium-high heat until it is hot, ~350° F (hold at this temperature while frying). Line a baking sheet with paper towels; set aside.

      Carefully add the drained chicken to the bowl with the egg whites and use your hands to get in and toss it all around so that all the chicken pieces get covered in egg white. Lift the pieces out of the egg white and let some of it drip back into the bowl, then transfer to the cornstarch mixture. Toss to coat and then add to the hot oil. Do not overcrowd your pan, do this in batches (the chicken pieces are fine sitting in the egg whites until you transfer what you need to the cornstarch mixture and the oil).

      Fry for approximately 5 minutes, or until golden, crispy, and cooked through. Lift pieces out with a slotted spoon or fish spatula (that's what I always use when frying) and set on prepared baking sheet. Continue until all of your chicken has been fried.

      Pour the warm sauce into a large bowl and add the fried chicken pieces. Toss to coat and serve over warm rice or noodles. Garnish with a smattering of scallions, if using. Enjoy!

      notes:
      This is EXTREMELY spicy! I mean, regret it tomorrow kind of spicy. If you can't handle that much spice, decrease the red chile flakes by at least half, maybe even more. But don't leave them out entirely, General Tso's is supposed to have heat!

      A huge thanks to my friend Jen of Juanita's Cocina, who I adapted this recipe (only in method, not in ingredients) from - this is my favorite dish to order from the Chinese take-out place! This comes so incredibly close that I can now make it at home instead of ordering take-out. You know. Potentially. Although I admit to enjoying the whole take-out experience now and again.
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      Food‘nFlixThis round of Food 'n Flix is being hosted by Tina at Squirrel Head Manor.  If you want to join us this month, carve out a couple of hours to watch How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and then head into the kitchen to whip up something inspired by the flick - and then send your entries to Tina (here's how) no later than March 27th!


      This post contains Amazon affiliate links.


      Tuesday, March 19, 2013

      Càlia e Simenza inspired by The Shape of Water {cook the books}

      "'What are you doing?' I asked him.  And he answered me with a question in turn.
      "'What shape is water?'
      "'Water doesn't have any shape!' I said, laughing.  'It takes the shape you give it.'"

      For this round of Cook the Books, we're reading something that I probably would have never picked up myself, The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri, as picked by Rachel.  This is the first novel in a series of Inspector Montalbano mysteries.  Now, it has all the makings of something I would gravitate towards.  The tagline on the cover reads "a novel of food, wine and homicide in small town Sicily".  That in itself got me excited to start turning the pages.

      In all honesty, I was having a hard time getting into it at first.  The writing seemed jumbled and confusing.  The language and terms used were offensive.  I'm not a prude (usually).  I'm not easily offended (okay, I kind of am).  I'd define it more as a sensitivity towards other people's feelings (and my own).  Right off the bat there's talk of fat, hairy nether-regions, transvestites, transsexuals, and a word that is better reserved as a synonym for cigarettes.  All of which maybe I could have overlooked if the book lived up to its tagline, but I was hard pressed to find the food and the wine.  The homicide was there, though.

      Not one to quit, I forged on.  About a quarter of the way into the book, it started to even out.  It became less jumbled and confusing.  Our detective turned out to be a likeable sort.  He appreciated a good meal, believed in love, and had a compassionate soul.  Food edged its way into the mystery here and there... from teeth being sunk into a bread roll filled with prosciutto (yes please)... to a dish of pasta with garlic and oil served alongside boiled shrimp with lemon... to a delectable dish of perfectly cooked baby octopus.  But fair warning to potential readers, the context of the book never allows the crude sexual talk, terms, and descriptions to fade away.
      Tucked away at the end of a chapter was the that quote I gave at the top.  I'd say it was an epiphany moment, brought on by a memory.  Lines like those were what made me forget the parts of this book that I didn't care for.

      I've heard that this is a sort of "development" novel, and that they get better.  I mean, it is the first in a series, so I get that.  I'm not sure if I'll continue on to the rest, definitely not right away.  Perhaps if my teetering piles of books scattered here and there ever find themselves dwindling...

      So what dish did this novel inspire me to make?  A simple street-food.  Montalbano spoke of a hovel of a shop that sold not only "terracotta dolls and rusty weights to nineteenth-century scales", but also "càlia e simenza, a mixture of roasted chickpeas and salted pumpkin seeds".  He would buy a paper cone full of them and head out on his stroll along the eastern jetty, to the lighthouse.  I knew as soon as I read the passage that that's what I'd be making.

      Crunchy and salty, càlia e simenza makes the perfect snack food.  I can definitely see myself strolling along outside, enjoying the sites and tipping back my paper cone.  And as my husband pointed out, they'd be perfect alongside a cold beer.

      Càlia e Simenza

      by Heather Schmitt-González
      Prep Time: 15 minutes
      Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
      Keywords: roast appetizer snack vegan pepitas chickpeas Italian

      Ingredients (serves 4-6)
      • 1 (14.5 oz.) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
      • ~1 c. pepitas
      • olive oil
      • sea salt
      • freshly ground black pepper
      • smoked paprika
      Instructions
      Preheat oven to 400° F. Spread the drained chickpeas out on a layer of absorbant towels (paper or clean tea towels) and let sit to dry while oven is preheating, 15-20 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

      Spread the chickpeas out on the parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a few pinches of smoked paprika; shake the pan to coat with oil (or use your hands to make sure they're all coated in oil). Slide into oven and roast for 20 minutes.

      Remove from oven, and tilt to roll all of the chickpeas over to one half of the pan. Quickly spread the pepitas out on the other half of the pan. Return to oven and roast for another 15 minutes, or until the chickpeas and the pepitas are roasted and golden in spots. Sprinkle a little salt over the pepitas.

      Toss them together and serve in paper cones while still warm (or at room temperature).

      notes:
      Typically this would be made with shell-on pumpkin seeds, but since I didn't have any, I substituted pepitas. If you want to use shell-on, add them at the same time, or 10-15 minutes before the chickpeas.

      You could also used roasted, salted pepitas, and just mix them in with the chickpeas as soon as they come out of the oven.
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      cookthebooksIf you'd like to join us for this round of Cook the Books, you still have until Monday to read The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri and head into the kitchen to whip up something inspired by the book (and add your links here by the end of the day on 3/25/13).


      This post contains Amazon affiliate links.


      Sunday, March 17, 2013

      Irish Coffee and Irish Memories

      In truth, I always thought that the first place my international travels would take me would be Italy.  Most likely, Tuscany.  It's just a dream I've had for as long as I can remember to see rows of grapevines stretching over waving hills as far as the eye can see.  I imagined fat lemons and olive groves and "creepy Italian trees".  In the land of make-believe, I even envisioned finding my very own Bramasole.

      Then again, maybe Mexico would be my first destination.  Sure, I've been there... when I was approximately too young to remember.  Being born a southern California girl in the mid-seventies, strolling leisurely across to border for a plate of good food and continued expanses of sandy beaches was just what you did.  Or so I hear.  Plus, I married myself a Mexican.  Surely we would one day have our own colorful hacienda, complete with a hand-crafted iron entryway and an open courtyard in the middle where we would sit with our cafecitos under the gentle morning sun.

      Italy and Mexico were definitely the top two destinations on my itinerary.  But the rest of the world had its spot on my list of "one day".  Never did I imagine that instead, my first airplane ride would bring visions of lush land in every shade of green imaginable, parceled off with vegetation and stones and trees.  From my window seat high above I would be stunned into watery-eyed silence by the sight of row houses and farmland and quiet, winding roads.  The sparks of dormant Irish locked up in my DNA began to awaken.
      My time in Ireland was a whirlwind of buses and whiskey distilleries, mash pots and drams, magpies and beautiful scenery passing by at a clip.  I longed to scream STOP THE BUS!  How badly I wanted to spread out a blanket and breathe in the bustle of Monday morning in Dublin or the enveloping hush of the late Monday afternoon in County Cork.  I found it utterly dizzying how the soil under my feet (and all over my shoes) felt so comfortable.

      That whirlwind left me longing for more.  I met fabulous people.  I tasted amazing food.  I learned a whole awful lot about the process of making whiskey.  And then I jetted off to Scotland (love story part two).

      And now, just remembering, I feel the a tug at my heart that threatens to pull it straight from my chest.  One day I will return to Ireland, and I will take it slow.  I'll drink leisurely in the pubs.  I'll take photos of the streets and the countrysides.  I'll chase off the evening chill with an Irish Coffee.  And I'll wave at the buses going by from my blanket in the park.
      My favorite Irish Whiskey seems to be the one I'm drinking at any given moment.  I love the small nuances each distiller adds to their amber liquid.  While in Ireland, I visited several distilleries and sampled several more types of whiskey.  Concannon was not one that I tried until back home in the states, though.  But as fate would have it, this Concannon Whiskey is distilled in collaboration with Cooley distillery, which is located in County Louth at the foothills of the Cooley Mountains.  Cooley I was familiar with!  Concannon combines both malt whiskey and grain whiskey, blended by Master Distiller Noel Sweeney, whom I met and had a whiskey tasting with while at Kilbeggan distillery.  (You can catch a glimpse of him in this post.)

      Concannon is aged in bourbon casks for a minimum of four years (Irish whiskey must be aged for at least three years to be authentic Irish whiskey) before being transferred to barrels that previously held Concannon wine to allow for mellowing and maturing of the whiskey, which results in some sweet, fruity notes in the finished product.  To me, Concannon's nose is fruity with hints of light caramel and vanilla.  When tasted, I pick up those same notes, but it also blooms on the tongue sort of soft and floral-like.  It's mellow and smooth enough that you can kick back and enjoy a dram, but I can see some tasty cocktails coming out of it in the future, as well.

      In honor of St. Paddy's Day, I went traditional.  It's soft sweetness made it a welcome flavor in my Irish Coffee.  Have you tried Concannon Irish Whiskey?  What would you use in your Irish Coffee (or what is your favorite type of Irish Whiskey)?

      Erin go bragh...you will forever have a piece of my heart, Ireland.

      Irish Coffee

      by Heather Schmitt-González
      Prep Time: 5 minutes
      Cook Time: n/a
      Keywords: beverage alcohol coffee whisk(e)y St Patricks Day tailgating Irish

      Ingredients (2 coffees)
      • 4 tsp. brown sugar
      • ¼ c. Irish Whiskey
      • 1 c. freshly brewed, strong, hot coffee
      • heavy cream
      Instructions
      If you can, warm two clear mugs in a very low oven for a few moments before making and serving this coffee.

      Carefully set the two warm mugs down and add 2 teaspoons of the brown sugar to each. Add 2 tablespoons of the whiskey to each mug. Next, add ½ cup coffee to each.

      Adding the cream is the last step. In order to achieve that layer floating on top of the coffee, turn a spoon upside down and but it up to the inside of the mug, just slightly above coffee-level. Slowly pour the cream over the back of the spoon, letting it run down and hit the side of the mug and gently drizzle into the coffee until you have a good layer of the cream.

      Serve immediately!
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      I received a free bottle of Concannon Irish Whiskey for the purpose of tasting.  All opinions stated in this post are my own.


      Saturday, March 16, 2013

      Irish Cream Custard Gâteau {Bread Baking Babes}

      Do you know what today is?  That's right, it's the sixteenth - and that means Bread Baking Babes!  Lien from Notitie de Lien is our host kitchen of the month and she has chosen a rich, buttery, decadent Gâteau à la Crème for us to bake up in our kitchens this month.  The original filling is made from egg yolks, sugar, lemon, and crème fraîche.  That's a big yum.

      However.

      Do you know what tomorrow is?  That's right, it's the seventeenth - and means St. Patrick's Day!  Holy shillelagh, the first half of this month whizzed by!  I told you of my best-laid plans to make all Irish, all month, right?  Mmm hmm.  Just as I suspected, I failed on that front.  I barely brought you a week's worth of Irish-inspired grub.  Okay, that's a lie.  This is actually only the fourth Irish-ish thing I've shared this month.
      If only my real life had as many hours in it as my imaginary life did.

      So in order to squeeze in one more Irish-inspired post, I decided to nix that tasty sounding lemon filling.  Instead, we're going with a rich, chocolatey custard that is laced with a good punch of Irish Creme.  It's ridiculous.  Irish ingredient number one.  But take a wee gander at that brioche that's supporting the custard.  See how it radiates all the warmth of a sunny afternoon?  There's 5 egg yolks in there. (Um, that may or may not have been an error that worked out for the best.  You'll have to check some of the other babe's posts to see how many yolks their brioche contained.)  The other contributor of that golden hue?  It's Kerrygold Irish Butter.  You've gotta know by now that I cannot get enough of that stuff.  I start to shake a little bit if there's none in my fridge.

      What do you think?  Irish Cream Liqueur and Irish Butter all rolled into one glorious (ahem, French) dish.  That counts towards my goal, right?  If you're looking for a great brunch item for St. Patty's (Paddy's?) day, you cannot go wrong serving these gâteaux with a side of fresh fruit, a few rashers of Irish bacon, and some good coffee.  Or tea, whatever you fancy.

      Irish Cream Custard Gâteau

      by Heather Schmitt-González
      Prep Time: 3 hours
      Cook Time: 25-30 minutes
      Keywords: bake bread breakfast snack dessert butter flour French Irish

      Ingredients (2 small gâteaux (4-6 slices e)
        for the brioche dough:
        • 250 grams bread flour
        • big pinch fine sea salt
        • 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
        • 1½ tsp. active dry yeast
        • 2 eggs
        • 3 egg yolks
        • 150 grams unsalted butter, cubed & at cool room temperature
        for the Irish Cream Custard:
        • 1½ c. heavy cream
        • 1/3 c. granulated sugar
        • 6 large egg yolks
        • 1 oz. (28 grams) bittersweet chocolate chips
        • ½ c. homemade Irish Cream Liqueur or storebought
        to finish:
        • 1 egg, beaten
        • pearl or nib sugar
        Instructions
        making the dough:
        Combine flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough hook (put salt on the very bottom and yeast on the very top). Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks and mix on low until the dough starts to come together, ~3 minutes. Turn up the speed to about medium and allow to knead for another 5 minutes, or until the dough starts to pull away from the bowl.

        One by one, start adding cubes of butter to the bowl and continue to mix until all the butter is incorporated, 2-3 minutes.

        Remove bowl from mixer and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside at warm room temperature for 1 hour. Refrigerate for 1 hour longer (this makes the dough easier to work with).

        make the Irish Cream custard:
        Place the egg yolks into a small bowl and set aside.

        Combine cream and sugar in a medium pot over medium heat until it just starts to bubble around the edges. Whisk to dissolve sugar. Turn to low.

        Slowly pour some of the simmering cream into the eggs, whisking the whole time to temper them. Once you have at least a quarter of the mixture whisked it, pour the whole thing back into the pot, once again whisking the whole time. Add chocolate.

        Continue to cook while whisking constantly until chocolate has melted and mixture has thickened, 2-3 minutes. Whisk in the Irish Cream and allow to cook (yes, you're still whisking) for another 30 seconds or so.

        Pour the whole mixture into a large, glass measuring cup (through a strainer if you think you have any lumps). Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it down so that it touches the surface so that a skin does not form. Refrigerate until ready to use.

        forming the dough:
        Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

        Lightly flour a work surface. Divide the dough in half. One piece at a time, for the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Gently continue to press the dough flat and spread it into a circle that is ~9-inches in diameter; start from the middle and press outward, leaving a 1-inch border, as best you can. Or make it slightly larger and build up your own edge. Take care not to stretch the dough and to keep the dough even in thickness. (You can either do the flattening on the parchment-lined tray itself, or do it on your work surface and carefully transfer it over. I did one each way - and both ways worked fine.)

        Gently set a piece of plastic wrap over the dough and set aside at warm room temperature for 25 minutes.

        Preheat the oven to 180°C/360°F (or if your oven doesn't have a 360 mark, you can do what I do and just stick it somewhere between the 350 and 375 marks).

        filling, finishing, and baking:
        Prick the base of the dough all over with a fork. Brush the rim of both rounds with the beaten egg, and then scatter as much nib sugar over as you wish.

        Divide the custard between the two rounds, filling them full. You may have just a bit of custard left over. No worries...eat that part with a spoon while you're waiting.

        Carefully slide the tray into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are risen and golden brown. The filling should still look a bit wobbly, but it will be bubbling around the edges. Set the tray on a rack to cool. Cut into wedges and serve!

        Good for dessert or with your morning coffee. Or with Irish Coffee...mmmm....

        notes:
        You can make the custard a day or so in advance, if you like. Cover with plastic wrap (pressed down to touch the surface) and refrigerate until ready to use. No need to bring to room temperature - pull it out of the fridge when you're ready to form the dough.

        Gâteau adapted from Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets. Custard adapted from here
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        The Bread Baking Babes
        Bake My Day - Karen
        blog from OUR kitchen - Elizabeth
        girlichef  - Heather
        Life's a Feast - Jamie
        Provecho Peru - Gretchen

        If you'd like to bake along as a buddy this month, check out the post by Lien at Notitie Van Lien, our Babe kitchen of the month - then head into the kitchen and bake up your own Gâteau and send her your link by the 29th.  She'll send you a badge for baking along and round up all of the entries on her site!