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Making Limoncello July 21, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Drinks.
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This project was inspired by a trip to the Farmers’ Market, where someone was selling delicious bottles of gin, grappa and limoncello. While I did partake of some samples, I didn’t end up purchasing anything because the prices were rather…prohibitive. While I’m not intending to start making gin any time soon, as we were returning home I remembered that limoncello was apparently fairly easy to make.

While I was looking about for a recipe, I did discover that yes, limoncello did seem pretty simple to make – but there was so much variation in recipes I ended up abandoning them and making my own (which was an average of several of the recipes I’d read).

I thought I’d try by making one bottle, and if it was good, I’d make more. So I started by using my microplane to grate the skin of 5 lemons. This seemed the easiest way of getting the peel into small pieces while ensuring that the bitter white pith was not included. Not having access to random high-proof spirits traditionally used to make limoncello, I instead used vodka. After the lemon zest was ready, I poured out a bit of the vodka and then stuffed in all the zest. It started to go yellow almost immediately, and most of the zest settled in the bottom.

After reading recipes that said it should be left to steep from anywhere from 5 to 45 days, I decided to leave it to steep for a month, and I occasionally shook the bottle to redistribute the zest.

After a month, it was time to filter out all the lemony bits. I used a coffee filter, which worked pretty well.

I was left with some very yellow – and very potent – lemon flavoured vodka.

Next, I made a sugar syrup (not 1:1, more water than sugar) to add to the mixture. Making your own limoncello of course has the advantage that you can make it as sweet as you like – in my case, not very sweet. After mixing the sugar syrup with the lemon mixture, I was rewarded with almost 2 full bottles of lovely limoncello, ready to drink.

I was so happy with how this came out that I immediately started 4 more bottles of the stuff, which are now steeping. This limoncello is super refreshing – very lemony, not very sweet – and is great added to gin and tonics or even to martini-type drinks. It is still quite potent and I think with this next batch I’m making, I’ll add more water to dilute it a bit more, but overall the result is very nice. So I would like to thank the man at the Farmers’ Market for inspiring me to make my own limoncello – although I don’t think I am brave enough to show off what I have made to him!

Seed bread June 17, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Bread.

Technically, I guess this isn’t bread. It has no flour and no yeast – just a lot of seeds with some stuff to hold it together. You may have seen the recipe already as it has been doing the rounds – I am not sure it qualifies as life-changing, or possesses all of the beneficial health qualities stated in the recipe, but I was intrigued and curious about trying a loaf which was a loaf – but not bread.

It was easy enough to put together – I started by measuring out all the seeds and nuts directly into the loaf tin.

The strangest ingredient to me was the psyllium seed husks, which is the ingredient which binds everything together in lieu of actual flour or gluten. The first time I made this, I mixed in the psyllium husks with the dry ingredients, and then added the water plus a bit of oil. However, in subsequent cooking, I’ve mixed the psyllium in with the water/oil mixture and then stirred the whole lot into the nuts. This seemed to allow the psyllium to be better spread throughout the mixture and therefore bind everything together evenly.

Then it was just a matter of waiting. I erred on the side of caution and left it for about 4 hours, until it had firmed up and was well combined. I cooked it for 20 minutes in the tin, then removed it from the tin and cooked it for another 30 minutes, until it was golden and toasty.

As you see, the loaf bulged a bit to fit the silicone tin I used – maybe I used too many seeds. If you are going to make this loaf, one tip I will pass on is to wait until it is completely cool before slicing it – otherwise it is rather crumbly.

Once it is cool enough – slice away! It is delicious freshly sliced and also fantastic toasted – it has a great texture and taste.

I admit I haven’t been doing anything exciting with this loaf except for cut slices and spread avocado on it. This recipe is definitely flexible enough to change out the seeds or the amounts of each type.

I don’t think this is quite a substitute for my weekly loaf of bread, but it certainly is a lovely change from time to time.

Chicken poached in milk May 26, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Chicken.
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While this dish may be too simple for Nero Wolfe, I can see him using this recipe when he is forced to travel, and wants to eat something that is simple but tasty. And chicken poached in milk is certainly tasty! This combination is perhaps not the most delectable-sounding, particularly when you learn that the recipe also calls for lemon – essentially creating a curdled milk sauce.

I have previously cooked fish in cream so was thinking that this recipe would be similar. I didn’t really follow a specific recipe as it seemed it was a simple preparation – brown the chicken, add the lemon, milk and spices (cinnamon, sage, bayleaves, salt and pepper), then cook in the oven for an hour and a half, or until the chicken was done.

Preparing the chicken for poaching

You can see that as soon as the lemon was added, the milk started to curdle. It doesn’t look the most appetising, I agree. Nevertheless I pressed on and put the chicken in the oven.

After an hour or so, the house smelled fantastic and the chicken was falling apart. The milk had reduced into a lovely sauce, and it was definitely time to eat.

The chicken out of the oven

I carved it as best I could (more like pulling it apart semi-neatly!) and served it with a vinegary salad to offset the richness of the milk sauce.

The final chicken with salad

What I really like about poaching things in milk or cream is that they become so soft but still rich. In this case, the sauce had fully permeated the chicken, and the flavours I’d added to the milk, particularly the bayleaves and the sage, had penetrated particularly well.

I can see Nero Wolfe preparing a dish like this when he is (regrettably) on the road, with no Fritz to assist. However, he would still want to impress any guests in attendance, and this recipe is both simple and impressive, which I think is why this dish works so well.


A variation on dry fried green beans April 7, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Pork, Vegetables.
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I am currently obsessed with Szechuan dry fried green beans. Every time I go to a Szechuan restaurant, I must order them. They are so flavoursome – and seem almost healthy compared to some of the other menu options. Naturally after ordering them multiple times when dining out, I decided I needed to learn how to make them myself.

After reading a few recipes online, I decided to create my own variation. Instead of using straight pork mince, I used some fresh chorizo sausage I had in the freezer. And instead of chinese longbeans, I used standard green beans.

I started by cooking the chorizo in some oil, breaking it up into small pieces.

(If you’re wondering why the chorizo is so pink – yes, there is a little bit of pink salt in the meat)

After the chorizo was cooked, I removed it from the wok and replaced it with Szechuan peppercorns, which I toasted until they were fragrant. Then I added garlic, ginger, chopped chilis, and finally, chopped green onions. Again I cooked these until everything was soft and then removed them from the wok.

Next, I added the beans. I found the best way to cook these was to let them sit for a few minutes, so the ones on the bottom became blistered and charred in some places, then move them around so there were new beans on the bottom.

It took longer than I was expecting to cook all the beans properly – but it was definitely worth the wait as they became properly blistered.

After the beans were cooked, I added everything back into the wok and tossed it all together, before serving it.

While different from the original, these were very tasty and satisfied my cravings for these green beans. There were just enough Szechuan peppercorns to get that numbing feeling without the spiciness of the peppercorns overwhelming everything else. I really like cooking beans in this manner – they remain flavoursome and a little crispy, despite their blistered exteriors. While not at all traditional, I think the chorizo worked in its role of salty meaty addition, and altogether the dish was definitely a success. This one will definitely be repeated on a regular basis – think of all the money I’ll save in restaurant costs!

Relapse: Cucumber March 10, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Vegetables.
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Relapse: An occasional series where I discuss several ways of preparing an ingredient.

This summer I have been enjoying cucumbers in a number of ways. Of course, it’s easy to chuck one in a salad or even eat one plain, but for some reason I’ve never done much else with cucumbers. This has changed recently and I’m going through a ton of cucumbers and using them in a variety of ways. Here’s some of my favourite ways to prepare cucumbers.

Pickle them

This is a no-brainer, really. If I ever see gherkins or other pickling cucumbers for sale, I usually buy them all. And then spend the weekend making pickles! I usually make dill pickles because these are my absolute favourite – I much prefer them to the sweet variety.

You need a brine of vinegar, salt and water, plus whatever flavourings you want. For dill pickles, I use plenty of dill and garlic, plus peppercorns and general pickling spice.

It takes about 5-6 days for the cucumbers to pickle to the degree that I like them (I like them when they’re still a bit crunchy). I don’t bother canning them because I eat them so quickly it’s not worth the effort! The brine is also great to add to cocktails and other things.

Drink them

Cucumbers are pretty watery and lend themselves well to blending and pulverising. This makes them great for a variety of drinks – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. To get a perfectly smooth juice, blend pieces of cucumber with a couple of splashes of water (and other flavourings, such as lemon juice, if you like), then strain, pushing all the pulp through so you get all the juice out.

This juice can be used as a base to create a variety of drinks, including this pseudo-tiki cocktail I made (and then drank out of Cthulhu’s head, which of course made it more delicious). This cocktail contained light and dark rum, bitters, the cucumber juice and some pineapple juice. The cucumber juice also makes a great substitute in a bloody mary-type cocktail – and of course you can add some of the brine from the pickles, above.

Eat them (in a soup)

A variation on the juice above, this method ensures you use both the pulp and juice from the cucumbers. This time you probably want to take the time to peel the cucumbers, and again dice them and add them to your blender. Then add whatever flavourings you want: I added mint, coriander, spring onions, lemons, salt – and most importantly, soft avocados.

You could use cream as well as avocados but the avocados definitely provide enough creaminess on their own. You also need some cold water to help blend everything together. It’s best if you can leave the soup to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours so the flavours can mingle. I served mine with fried onions on the top – but of course you could also use more cucumbers.

I have become a big fan of this soup and have been making it frequently during the hot weather we’ve been having. It’s super simple to make and is delicious and refreshing.

All of these methods of preparing cucumbers have definitely made me eat more of them, and I am enjoying their refreshing qualities as well as the great flavours that these vegetables provide.