Saturday, March 31, 2018

Homemade Limoncello

martini made with limoncello, blueberry vodka and lemon juice garnished with frozen blueberries

 I made this recipe once before in the summertime when the humidity was so high that the bottle began to sweat as soon as I pulled it out of the freezer.  Which makes any drink look enticing and mouth watering when you are parched from the summer heat. 
  Our friends who had come over for dinner after a long day chasing toddlers on the beach complained the next day of their headaches perhaps having overindulged in this magical elixir poured ice cold into my mother's fancy liquor glasses.  As a child, I always admired the cut out metal holders and the curved fluted glass and wondered why they weren't put to use.  I figured they were too fancy.  But Val never liked the taste of liquor.  And my father only ever drinks beer so there they sat, lonely in the back of the glass china cabinet for years until I was old enough and lucky to acquire them.  Well, we certainly christened those glasses that hot summer night! There were numerous toasts to this and that but I don't recall any of them, myself.
  It was my sister, Karyn who jogged my memory of making limoncello.  She was in search of a pure recipe, without any additional additives.  The woman has a finicky stomach but isn't about to give up her nightly cocktail.  She is a creative home mixologist and comes up with delicious and knock your socks off combinations which have been featured on this blog before.  Her latest involves Blueberry Schmirnoff Vodka and limoncello shaken over ice and garnished with frozen blueberries.  So simple and elegant, it demands just the right lemon flavor.  I dug through my old files to find a scrap of paper with my horrible chicken scratch handwriting noting difficult to decipher directions and a few measurements.  I had taken the recipe notes from one of Giada's shows on the Food Network, before they were a power house presence online and one could easily download and print their recipes.  This was long before you could pause your T.V. to grab a pen and paper, so as I continued to listen to the show, I must have scrambled for the nearest available tools.  Here are my original notes, complete with embellishment by my then three year old. You can see for yourself that I was lucky to be able to figure out what it all meant.

  I'm glad I was compelled to search for the recipe as I ended up making a batch to give Karyn as a birthday gift.  What more could you want than a big bottle of homemade booze?  She put it to good use immediately.  We enjoyed it in her fancy blueberry and lemon cocktail and I'm sure she enjoyed it over ice as well as just swigging it out of the jug, as is her nature.

(makes one large jug)

10 lemons
750 ml. vodka
3 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar

  Wash the lemons. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest off the lemons being careful to not have too much of the white pith attached.  Add the zest to a large pitcher or jug.  (Use the rest of the lemons for another recipe.)  Pour the vodka over the lemon pith in the jug and cover.  Allow to steep for four days.
  On the fifth day, combine water and sugar in a large sauce pan.  Bring to a simmer just long enough for the sugar to melt.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Add the sugar and water combination (simple syrup) to the vodka and lemon pith.  Cover and allow to sit overnight.
  On the sixth day, strain the lemon pith out by setting a fine mesh sieve on a large bowl or another large pitcher.  Pour the lemon/vodka mix into the sieve and bowl.  Discard the lemon pith.  Pour Limoncello into a resealable jug or small bottles.  Can be placed in freezer to keep chilled.

Bruised Blueberry Martini
(makes 2)

3 ounces blueberry vodka
1 ounce limoncello
juice from 1/2 lemon
handful of frozen blueberries

  Fill two martini glasses with ice and water to chill.  Fill a cocktail shaker half full with ice.  Add the blueberry vodka, limoncello and lemon juice.  Let sit for a minute to melt the ice a bit.  (A little water in the drink, makes a good cocktail.) Shake vigorously.  Dump out the ice water in the martini glasses, then strain cocktail into martini glasses.  Drop 2-3 frozen blueberries into each cocktail.  Allow for blueberries to begin to melt and create "legs" in the drink.  Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Throw Back from The Falmouth Bulletin December 2011: Lessons from Val's Kitchen, "Mrs Fake"

This post is a throw back from The Falmouth Bulletin published in December, 2011 under the column, "Lessons from Val's Kitchen".  My grandmother certainly loved to have fun!

Mrs. Fake
  If you have read any of my stories, you probably already know that everything Val makes is strictly from scratch. On top of that, it’s always fresh. She actually gets up at 4:00am on Thanksgiving Day to bake the pies. That’s how important it is to her. I’m not lying. There are no short cuts, just techniques and recipes that detail the right way of doing things. You may be surprised to know that her mother, Edie, does not subscribe to this folly.
  I often say that Val, my mother, was doing what Martha Stewart made popular like making homemade jam from freshly picked strawberries she grew in her own garden, long before Martha was a household name. I’ve just come to realize that my grandmother, Edie is also ahead of her time. She was using mostly store bought ingredients and combining them to make it her own way before Sandra Lee came onto the scene with her “Semi-Homemade” approach. This is Edie’s classic technique.  She even earned the nickname, “Mrs. Fake” lovingly bestowed upon her by my smart-aleck aunt, Janet. Edie knows how to take advantage of modern conveniences so that she can get on with the business of having a good time.
  Edie has done a lot of entertaining throughout the years. I have always loved hearing about the parties she had and the names of the guests who attended the night before. The phrase, “Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres” is still magic to me especially when she says it in her sing-song voice. The hors d’oeuvres she served were very exotic: Vienna sausages, Swedish meatballs and fancy pink and orange cheese served in a crock. There were signature cocktails, too: vodka and Fresca, vodka and 7-Up and vodka and Cranberry. One time, I was lucky enough to be invited to help take coats at one of her fancier parties. My friend Jenny and I were 16 and we dressed in our finest to greet guests and lay their heavy fur coats on my grandmother’s bed. Then we escaped to the kitchen to sample some of the food and stole up to our room to giggle the night away. I’m not sure how late the festivities went on but I know we were asleep before the party goers began to leave.
  There were family holiday dinners as well, one where Edie attempted to cook a large turkey in her new microwave. Unfortunately, that method did not catch on. But other useful tips and ingredients are still in play in households across the country today. Cool Whip comes to mind. Many people love the stuff. I have only had the pleasure at Edie’s house. As you can imagine, Val demands freshly whipped cream when adorning her homemade pies and cakes. I’ve recently come across two of Edie’s recipes that require little effort for seemingly homemade type results. Both of them employ the magical frozen stuff. One is a strawberry pie using three ingredients and absolutely no cooking. Two containers of Dannon strawberry yogurt, Cool Whip and a premade graham cracker crust is all that is needed to fool your friends. But my favorite one is actually pretty impressive. This dessert can be found in “A Collection of Powell Recipes” typed and photocopied by my mother’s cousin, Susan Hackley, June 1988. It was also featured in “Simply the Best Course”, the Woods Hole Golf Club centennial cook book. If you don’t have the good fortune to own either one of these tomes, the recipe is reprinted below. Please be sure to heed the warning that Edie wrote at the end of the directions:  “Very Rich!”  Sandra Lee, eat your heart out!

Edie’s Ladyfinger Cake
(Serves 12)
1 cup heavy cream or 2 cups Cool Whip
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
12 oz. Nestle’s chocolate bits
4 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 eggs, separated
3-4 dozen ladyfinger cookies
½ oz. dark chocolate for shaving

  Add 1 tablespoon sugar to 1 cup cream and whip until soft peaks form. Place in refrigerator. If using Cool Whip, omit this step.
 Melt the chocolate over low heat. Remove from heat and transfer to mixing bowl. Add the cold water, 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla and combine with electric mixer. Beat in egg yolks while chocolate mixture is still warm; continue to beat on low speed for 5 minutes. In another bowl, combine the egg whites and one tablespoon sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in ½ of the whipped cream or ½ of the Cool Whip. Combine egg white/whipped cream mixture with chocolate mixture.
  Line the bottom and sides of a 9” spring form pan with enough plastic wrap to hang over the sides.   Place a layer of ladyfingers along bottom and sides of pan. Pour a layer of the chocolate mixture over ladyfingers; add a layer of ladyfingers, then chocolate mixture until there are three layers, up to the top edge of the pan. Cover cake with plastic wrap and freeze cake for 24 hours. Thirty minutes before serving, remove cake from spring form pan by inverting it onto a serving plate, then releasing the pan.  Cover the top and sides of cake with remaining whipped cream or Cool Whip. Decorate with chocolate shavings and serve. 

This holiday season, Andrea Norris can be found under a mound of freshly baked cookies. For more recipes and fun, go to

Friday, March 9, 2018

Birthday Cake Failure

birthday cake with peeps and drippy frosting

 March birthday month started out with a fizzle.  My attempt to bake a spectacular cake for Declan did not come out as I envisioned.  I was rushed and feeling like I wasn't going to pull it all together in time: the cake, the bowling party, the presents.  I put the pressure of the happiness of my child in the forefront of my mind instead of living in the joy of the moment.  The frosting I made was a bit too runny and the top of the cake was slightly lopsided.  I spread the crumb coat  on the dilapidated cake and went to bed hoping that my fairy godmother would arrive in the middle of the night to fix the mess I created. 
  The next morning, I slept through my alarm.  Instead of hauling my tired body out of bed at 4:30am as planned, I somehow managed to get up an hour later.  Barely enough time to down at least two cups of black coffee in order to fulfill all my morning tasks including getting the decorations on the cake before leaving for work.  I tried to focus on the task but my frustration was already seeping through.  I used the frosting that was still too loose, hoping that it would still work.  I should have known better- I should have used a recipe.  It would be great if I might learn from this experience but I probably won't even remember the next time I get out the powdered sugar. 
  I placed brightly colored jelly beans in a geometric pattern along the side of the cake and then watched them slowly travel down the soft frosting like skiiers on a mountain slope.  By the time Declan got out of bed, I was trying to contain a tantrum over this epic birthday cake failure but when he saw the cake and looked truly happy about it, I decided  I had to keep my feelings of inadequacy in check.
  As each piece of candy threatened to tumble off the cake, I crossed my fingers and prayed that the whole thing would somehow hold together instead of ending up in an avalanche of  sugary mess. I did not share these thoughts with Declan as we jumped in the car and got to school just on time. But the entire way there, I thought about that cake and my failure to produce an outstanding piece of pastry art.  As I continued to stew about my crappy cake performance, Declan snapped me out of it with a hug.
"I'm so excited about my birthday!" he yelled as he ran down the hallway to his classroom. He could have cared less about my personal cake drama.
  Perfection is my nemesis.  Not that any cake I have ever made or ever will make be perfect.  But maybe close? Probably not.  Later that day, I thought of all the birthday cakes I tried to create over the years.  Each time the recipient was so pleased, so happy-even when the Barbie cake looked more like Cinderella in rags than a gorgeous princess and the time my hands were permanently dyed red for three days after my foray into making Spiderman cupcakes.  I realize that my failure is really in my own head.  After I covered Declan's cake with bright blue peeps and candles, no one else noticed that it was lopsided.  All that was left to do was make a wish, blow out the candles and slice it up.  When the party ended, there wasn't a crumb left.  No longer any evidence of my lack of decorating skill.  So I will keep trying.  Ava's birthday is in three weeks and I'm sure her request will have me shooting again for unattainable birthday cake perfection.

For a delicious tasting birthday cake, use this recipe.  The decorating is up to your own ability.

From the back of the Hershey's Cocoa can:

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake
(makes two 9" round cakes)

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup Hershey's Cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup boiling water
*1 tablespoon instant coffee

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9" round cake pans.  Combine all dry ingredients.  Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).  Pour into pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes.  Remove pans to wire racks.  Cool completely.

*This is my addition to the cake recipe.  The coffee enhances the chocolate flavor.

I should have used this frosting recipe from Joy of Cooking:

Quick White Icing
(makes about 1 cup*)

2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup softened butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3-4 tablespoons milk

Cream together powdered sugar and butter.  add salt, vanilla and milk.  Beat until smooth.  Add more milk if frosting is too thick, more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin.

* Double this recipe to frost 2 layers of cake.