Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Merry Recession: Gifts From Your Kitchen

If there has ever been "A year" in recent times for making gifts, this would have to be it. I've perused the magazines, websites and blogs and these are the batch of goodies I am whipping up for some lucky boys and girls this year.
Another tactic I am using this year is wrapping some of my favorite "Super Bon!" food items in festive cellophane as gifts. Most of these items are all under $10 and a fine addition to any food lover's cupboard.
(Note: Though it's now too late to start the limoncello in time for the holidays this year, BOY is it fun and easy - and a crisp delicious treat any time of the year, especially come summer!)

Rosemary Limoncello
(From Sunset Magazine, December 2007)
Italy's Amalfi Coast and adjoining Sorrento Peninsula are the regions most famous for this intensely lemony liqueur, traditionally served ice cold as an after-dinner drink. Here, it is enhanced with a subtle note of rosemary.
Prep and Cook Time: about 1 1/2 hours, plus at least 2 weeks and up to 80 days of infusing time. Notes: Either Meyer or Eureka lemons work in this recipe (the fragrant Meyer is especially good, though). To speed up the process, shorten the infusing time in steps 2 and 4 to 1 week each, and you'll have a fine although less intense liqueur. Limoncello keeps indefinitely in the freezer.
Makes 10 2/3 cups (ten 8.5-oz. bottles) (serving size: 1 oz.)

18 Meyer lemons, washed and dried
One 4-in. rosemary sprig, washed and dried
2 bottles (750 ml. each) 100-proof vodka, such as Stolichnaya
4 1/2 cups sugar

1. Peel lemons with a microplane or sharp peeler, taking only the zest (top layer) and avoiding any white pith. Put rosemary in a 1-gal. glass or ceramic container with a tight seal. Add zest to jar. (Juice the lemons and freeze for future use).
2. Pour 750 ml. vodka over rosemary and zest; seal container. Let sit undisturbed in a cool, dark place for 40 days.
3. In a saucepan, bring 5 cups water to a boil and add sugar. Cook, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Let sugar syrup cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
4. Pour syrup and remaining 750 ml. vodka over lemon-vodka mixture, stir, and seal container. Let sit in a cool, dark place for another 40 days.
5. Pour limoncello through cheesecloth into a large spouted pitcher and divide among gift bottles.

Ginger Sandwich Cookies
(From Food&Wine, December 2008)
World-renowned pastry chef Nick Malgieri adds a puckery note to his gingersnap cookies by sandwiching them with a fresh lemon cream.
Makes 20 three-inch sandwich cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (You'll have plenty of this around if you made the limoncello!)

Preheat the oven to 350° and position racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Make the cookies: In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and molasses. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until incorporated, scraping down the bowl.
Working in 2 batches, drop scant tablespoons of the dough onto the baking sheets, 3 inches apart. Bake the cookies for 20 minutes, until risen and fallen and slightly firm; shift the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through for even baking. Let cool slightly, then transfer the parchment paper to racks and let the cookies cool completely. Bake the remaining cookies.
Make the filling: In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the confectioners’ sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the lemon juice.
Arrange the cookies in pairs on a large work surface. Spoon or pipe 1 rounded tablespoon of the lemon filling onto the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with the remaining cookies, pressing them together so the filling spreads to the edge.
The sandwich cookies can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper for up to 1 week.

DIY Flavored Pistachios
The beauty of pistachios are their diversity. So to flavor them, don't be afraid to get creative with the ingredients.. You're not limited to "chili-lemon". Bourbon-maraschino.. tequila-black pepper-lime.. salt & vinegar.. cayenne-clementine... (liquid) smoke-cinnamon!? Get nutty.
Start with bulk pistachios. First dry the nuts a little more than they are when you buy them. To do this, put them in a large pot in the oven on low heat for a few hours.
After that add about 1/2 cup of Kosher salt per 5 pounds of nuts, spices or liquors to season them, and then water to dissolve the spices (no water if liquor).
Let them soak for 2 or 3 days to absorb the flavors, agitating them at least once a day and adding more liquid or spices if the nuts dry. The nuts will be soggy after this.
Then roast them by putting them in an oven with as much surface area as possible in contact with the air and dehydrate them at about 150 - 200 deg for 4 - 5 hours. Then roast them at about 300 deg or slightly more for about 1/2 hour to 45 min.
It helps to spray them with olive oil, or butter. This brings out more nutty flavor.
ginger cookie photo by quentin bacon

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