January 24, 2010


Infusions are the easiest and most satisfying way to dabble in DIY spirits this side of a bathtub still. Since being introduced to vodka infusions many moons ago by my brother, Bo, I've done a modest amount of experimenting with vodka and even an infused whiskey here and there, but a while ago I read several articles online about making limoncello and was intrigued enough to give it a try. The difference between limoncello and standard infusions seems to be a dilution with simple syrup after the initial infusion and a subsequent marrying period where the flavor supposedly further develops. Regular infusions don't involve dilution and artificial sweetening - just straight soaking.

This is Kyle, by the way.

The first time I tried my hand at this I decided to use limes rather than lemons. My lime-cello was pretty good, but for the second attempt, I decided to stick to the original lemon. As with last time, the recipe I used as a rough framework is on the Washington Compost website: here.

The ingredients are pretty simple: Lemons and booze. I used 22 lemons and 2 bottles of Everclear (95%). Because you basically dilute the limoncello 1:1 with simple syrup, it's best to start with the highest concentrated alcohol you can find or you'll end up with glorified lemonade. I don't know if it's true, but I've also seen it written that the flavor that is extracted from the lemon peels is alcohol soluble, so a higher alcohol percentage will extract it more efficiently.

The first step is to peel the lemons, but there's a trick. You only want the yellow part of the rind, and if you take too much of the white pith underlying the bumpy yellow part you can end up with a bitter twinge to the final product. The good news is that the simple syrup step can knock that bitterness down a bit, but best to spend the time carefully peeling the lemons at the outset - this stuff is going to take a few weeks to mature, after all.

Once I peeled the lemons using a veggie peeler, I stuffed the rinds in the biggest jar I could find and dumped in the Everclear. I think that when I made it last time, I only used one bottle and added the second after a week, but this time I added both. Ehh.

In about two weeks, I'll remove the lemon peels (which should have lost all their color to the alcohol) and remove any additional sediment using coffee filters and a funnel. Removing all the sediment is another way to reduce or eliminate any bitter elements in the final concoction.

Here's a picture of the Day Zero version. And the carcasses of 22 lemons. A jug of fresh lemon juice is a nice by-product of making this stuff.


I have a very delicious follow-up to my cinnamon rolls recipe coming soon, but considering three of my last four posts have involved sweets I though I should post something healthy first, lest you begin to believe that I eat nothing but sugar and butter. I do in fact eat my vegetables, even if they are scattered on top of a pizza or rolled up with butter, cheese, and breadcrumbs. More often than not, though, I eat them completely unadorned or at least in healthier ways, like in this soup.

While at Matt's parents' house in the southernmost Dakota this weekend they allowed me to take over their kitchen and fix dinner for them and Matt's grandparents. After debating between split pea soup and minestrone the consensus was minestrone. I've never made it before, so I looked up a bunch of recipes, picked out what I liked from each, and altered the plan slightly based on what looked good at the grocery store. The result was a large, steamy pot brimming with veggies, beans, pasta, broth and a bit of parmesan that warmed us up and filled us up, at least until it was time for dessert.

As with most soups you can adjust the ingredient list based on what you have and what sounds good to you. The only difficult part is figuring out when to add certain ingredients so they aren't overcooked. I put the pasta in too soon so it was on the mushy side by the time we ate it, but everything else turned out well.

Serves 10-12

1 medium yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 carrots, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 lg. russet potato, peeled or not and diced
1 15-oz. can white beans (cannellini or navy)
About 2 cups dry pasta, small shapes or broken noodles
1/2 head green cabbage, cut into 1" pieces*
Parmesan rind or about 1/3 cup grated parmesan, plus more for serving
1-2 bay leaves
Basil/thyme/parsley/whatever you feel like
Salt & pepper
Pesto for serving (optional)

*Spinach or kale would also be really good.

1. Over medium-high heat sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil for a few minutes, until the onions soften a bit.
2. Add the carrots, celery, tomatoes, broth, bay leaves, spices, and parmesan rind if you're using it. Let it simmer for several minutes until the carrots and celery begin to soften.
3. Add the potatoes and the pasta, and continue simmering. If you need additional liquid, add a little water or broth.
4. When the pasta and potatoes are almost cooked through, add the beans and cabbage.
5. Season with salt and pepper, grated parmesan (if using), and any other spices. When the cabbage softens, the soup is ready to eat.

Remove the bay leaves and serve with additional parmesan, pesto, and crusty bread.

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January 19, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

It took me a long time to figure out how food advertising works. I always thought that commercials for McDonald's or Wendy's were so pointless because there was no way I was going to run out and buy a cheeseburger after watching one. Even on the day in college when my roommate and I saw ad announcing the return of the McRib and she exclaimed, "Oh my god! The McRib is back!" I chalked it up to her being an employee of the corporation rather than food advertising actually working. After spending hours upon hours (not) considering the effectiveness of food advertising I've come to the conclusion that although McDonald's advertising doesn't work on me because I don't like their food and no advertisement would get me to eat there (Sorry, Amy.), it probably works on a certain audience. If Ruth's Chris starting flashing pictures of medium-rare filet mignons on my television screen, I might be persuaded to run out the door and eat one for dinner. I would at least put that on the top of my list of places to go the next time my parents are in town. And no, Mom and Dad, let's not tell the waiter that Sean Hannity sent us.

So maybe McDonald's commercials don't do anything for me, but I've discovered something else that has the same desired effect: food blogs. Whether I'm scouring food blogs for something to make for dinner or just perusing them because I am putting off reading about tax law I can always find numerous things that I want to eat. The main thing preventing me from weighing 500 lbs. is the fact that I have to go out, buy the ingredients, and cook in order to eat what I see on a blog. I'm slightly more in control of the situation.

And then our friend Kate had to go and make big, beautiful cinnamon rolls and post them on her blog. I saw the pictures, and I wanted one so very badly that I started contemplating making a batch. I quickly talked myself out of it, though, because cinnamon rolls are the last thing I need sitting around my kitchen. I had completely pushed them out of my mind when Matt walked in a few hours later and said, "Did you see the cinnamon rolls that Kate made?" We were helpless to the power of the cinnamon rolls, and the last day of our long weekend was spent mixing, rolling, sprinkling, slicing, and, eventually, indulging. Kate (and Zach), if I put on some 300 lbs. in the near future I am going to blame it on you and your blog for planting the idea and making it look like such a wonderful thing to do.

Like Kate, we used Martha Stewart's Truck Stop Cinnamon Roll recipe. I cut the recipe in half hoping to end up with just six rolls, but I somehow ended up with eight. [Shrug.] I had originally wanted to make the recipe from Pioneer Woman, but it yields seven pie plates full of cinnamon rolls. Seven. I know a little math could have made the PW rolls a viable option, but who needs math when the alternative is Martha Stewart?

Here are the ingredients I used:

For the dough:
1-1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2-1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
Between 5 and 6-1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt

For the filling:
2-3 tbsp melted butter
1/2-3/4 cup brown or white sugar
1/3-1/4 cup ground cinnamon

For the frosting I combined about 3 oz. of softened cream cheese and 2-3 tbsp. of softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. I used the whisk attachment to beat them together for a few minutes, poured in a little vanilla, and then added powdered sugar (maybe a few cups) until it was thick and frosting-like.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a big bowl) dissolve the yeast in the water. Add 2-1/2 cups flour, and stir to combine. Add the brown sugar and salt, and stir to combine.

Keep adding flour, 1/2 cup or 1 cup at a time, until the dough is sticky and starts pulling away from the edges of the bowl.

Look, Mom, I got a haircut.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead it until it comes together and is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if needed.

This was the easiest dough I've ever worked with. It was light, fluffy and very pliable, making the kneading a piece of cake.

Lightly oil a big bowl with a little vegetable oil and add the dough. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise for an hour or two.

This is a good point to take a walk around town for a couple hours like Matt and I did. Once you get back you'll feel like you've earned your right to eat a sweet, doughy coil of goodness. While we were out walking around I came up with about 15 ways I want to tweak this recipe and add in other ingredients, so once I run about 50 miles to work off this batch I'll try out some of the ideas and let you know how they go.

Here's the dough about 2 hours later. Super gigante.

Roll/press it out on a lightly floured surface into a big rectangle or square. If you get to a point where it's not stretching out as much as you'd like it's helpful to let it rest for a few minutes and then try to work with it again. I wasn't really trying to make this any particular size, and it ended up being about 17" long and 12 or 13" wide.

Martha tells you to drizzle the dough with oil or melted butter. The idea of using oil for it kind of skeeves me out, so I chose butter. I used 2-3 tablespoons and it was plenty.

Sprinkle the dough generously with sugar - white or brown. I stopped with the measurements at this point. Just add a bunch and when you think you have enough, add a little more.

Do the same with cinnamon, except add a lot more than this. I thought I was being pretty generous, but once the rolls had baked I wished I would have added about twice as much. This looks a lot like my dad's favorite way to eat toast - piled high with butter, cinnamon and sugar.

Roll the dough up length-wise as tightly as you can.

Mr. Squirrel is checking it out from afar.

Slice the log into uniform pieces, somewhere between two and three inches long.

Add them to a lightly oiled/buttered pan, cover them with plastic wrap, and let them rise for 30 minutes or so.

Preheat your oven to 400 at some point in here.

Make sure you use a pan with room for the rolls to grow, because after 30 minutes they will be fighting each other for space.

I had to use an overflow pan for some stragglers. I didn't plan well and slightly underestimated the size of pan I would need.

After growth spurt number one.

Bake the rolls on the top 1/3 of your oven for somewhere between 25 and 40 minutes, depending on their size. You want the tops to be golden, or slightly paler if you're going for a doughier version. These took 30-35 minutes to brown and bake through.

After growth spurt number two. I don't know how much you can tell from this picture, but if the rolls have room to expand they certainly will. This dish is 8"x11" at its widest points, so these guys got huge. The others were in a 9" cake pan, and they grew quite a bit but maybe not as much as the ones in the oval pan.

You may think these are pretty now, but just wait until we get to the frosting.

YUM! The cardinal rule of frosting (cream cheese or otherwise): Don't skimp.

Matt just told me that I look like a cinnamon roll, so I guess I'd better lay off these puppies. I don't know that I have it in me, though.

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January 16, 2010

Fried Rice with Soy-Ginger Salmon

Strange things have been happening around here lately. For one, the temperature has been at or above 32 degrees the last few days. That's not normal for January in Minnesota. A year ago yesterday the high was -6, and I don't think the temperature was above freezing for the entire month of January. Also a little strange, but in a totally awesome way, is my new eye doctor who serves you lattes while your eyes are dilating. Well, the doctor doesn't actually go behind the counter to steam the milk, but someone in the office whips up custom drinks while your pupils expand. I will never go to another eye doctor again.

Even stranger than warm temperatures and lattes at the eye doctor is this desire I've had all week to eat Asian food. I frequently crave Mexican food and sometimes french fries, but I generally have little desire to eat any kind of Asian food. In the last week, though, I've had pho once and this fried rice with salmon twice. Three times in one week. Unbelievable!

If Matt had his way we would probably eat at Chinese buffets five nights a week, but Chinese (with the exception of cream cheese wontons and soup) and buffets are not really my thing, so he's generally out of luck. Maybe it's a sauce thing. I'm not a huge fan of meals drenched in thick sauces, and Matt could live on sauces and condiments alone. At any meal you can find a minimum of three sauces surrounding his plate. When we go to restaurants he orders two kinds of dressing with his salad because two condiments are certainly better than one.

Getting back to the point, I was flipping through a cookbook a few days ago trying to figure out something to do with a piece of salmon and a soy-ginger sauce jumped out at me. I decided to take advantage of it, whipped up the sauce and marinated the salmon. I started cooking some brown rice to go along with the salmon, and before I knew it I was making fried rice. The only thing missing was some fortune cookies, but even without them it was a really good dinner.

The recipes I used for both the fried rice and the sauce for the salmon came from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I cut the recipe for the sauce in half and left out the scallions because I didn't have any, and I combined elements from two fried rice recipes to make the one below.

If you follow these amounts it should serve 3-4, or it will serve 2 with leftovers.

For the salmon:

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp dark sesame oil
1-1/2 tsp sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1-1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
Black or white sesame seeds for a garnish (optional)

For the fried rice:

2 cups cooked rice, chilled
3 carrots
1 cup or so of frozen peas
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp dark sesame oil
1/4 cup of some type of neutral, high-heat oil (I used sunflower, although Bittman is not a fan of it. He recommends peanut, grapeseed or corn.)
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine all of the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl. Pour about half of the sauce over the salmon in the dish you're going to bake it in. Stick the dish in the fridge to marinate until you're ready to bake it.

I was making brown rice, and while it was cooking I decided to make fried rice out of it. You're supposed to use rice that has cooled for a few hours, but since I didn't want to wait until 10 o'clock to eat I threw a few ice cubes in when it finished cooking and stuck it in the fridge. That's what a real chef would do, right? I thought so.

Cut the carrots into small discs or roughly chop them.

Steam them until they can be pierced by a fork but still have a little bite to them, maybe 5 minutes. Remove them from the heat.

In a large fry pan heat the oil over medium-high heat and then add the carrots. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and turn the heat up to high.

Cook the carrots, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown. It should take several minutes.

Once the carrots are done add in handfuls of rice, breaking it up as you add it to prevent clumping.

This is a good point to put the salmon in the oven, when the rice has about 10 minutes to go. It might be helpful to set a timer so you don't get sucked into the rice and overcook the salmon.

After you've added all the rice, make a well in the center...

...and pour in the eggs.

Scramble them a little, and then stir it all together.

Really grainy photo, but check out those scrambled eggs!

Add the peas, the soy sauce, and the sesame oil.

Stir everything together and let it cook for a few more minutes to warm up the peas. Make sure you scrape up the bits that get stuck to the pan - it's the best part.

Spoon some rice into a big bowl and top it with a piece of salmon. Drizzle some of the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

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January 12, 2010

Old English Toffee

Hello, world! Remember me? I know I haven't been around much lately, but I have been a little busy. It all started with a cleaning binge I went on immediately upon my return to Mini Soda last week. The result was a much improved state of my kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, but it was exhausting and the last thing I wanted to do afterward was make my kitchen messy again by cooking a big meal in it.

The cleaning binge was followed by another kind of binge that tends to happen when 30 twenty-somethings are hanging out in a gigantic house in northern Minnesota in the dead of winter. Snowmobilers, ice fishermen, bikini contest participants and law students are the only people dumb enough to go up north in January. One of those groups is also dumb enough to spend hours in an outdoor hot tub with only a few walls and screens to protect them from the subzero temperatures. I'll give you a hint: it's not the bikini contest participants.

The point is I've been a little preoccupied and I've spent virtually no time in the the kitchen unless I was throwing together a sandwich or making a bloody mary. Fortunately I have a few things left over from my time in Iowa that I haven't posted, including this recipe for toffee. I've posted before about Saltine Toffee, which I still think is a fine alternative to the real thing. The real thing is incredibly easy to make, though, so why not try it out?

Just like the caramel recipe I recently posted, this toffee recipe comes from Old Fashioned Candy Recipes from Bear Wallow Books.


1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
At least 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts

Just like when making caramels, it's helpful to have all of the ingredients measured out beforehand. You can hold off on the chocolate and nuts since they won't be used until later, but you should have everything else ready.

Combine the sugar, butter, water and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the temperature reaches 300*. When it hits 300 remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

*Be sure to use a utensil that can handle high heat.

Pour the mixture into an ungreased pan and let it cool. I used a big pizza pan, but a rimmed cookie sheet or a jelly roll pan would also work.

Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler or in the microwave and spread it over the toffee. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts. I used half pecans and half pistachios because I couldn't make up my mind, and both were tasty. Let the chocolate and toffee cool completely before breaking it into pieces.

January 7, 2010

Honey Caramels

I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret. You know those people who go around talking about how difficult candy-making is? They are liars. Terrible, terrible liars. On the spectrum of liars I would put them closer to the I-did-not-inhale liars than the Iraq-has-weapons-of-mass-destruction liars, but they are still liars. Making candy is insanely easy. I'm talking Tiger Woods easy. Candy-making is so easy you could do it in a Perkins parking lot (provided you had a hot plate). If you can read a recipe, read a thermometer and stir a sugary mixture for about 20 minutes, then you can make candy. Congratulations!

The caramel recipe I used came from an old candy cookbook that my mom dug up from the depths of the basement. I forget the name of the book, or perhaps more accurately the pamphlet, but I don't think it's something that you could find on Amazon or anything so the title would not be of much help to you. Scratch that! I think I found it. Old Fashioned Candy Recipes from Bear Wallow Books. Hurry up and order your copy today - only 13 remain!

Technically these are called "Butter Caramels," but the honey gives them serious honey undertones so I renamed them. It could have just been the honey that I used and a lighter variety might result in a more buttery candy. Either way, honey-hinted caramels are nothing to complain about.

One cup cream, 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup honey, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 tbsp butter, and 1/8 tsp salt. Unless you're diabetic you cannot go wrong with this combination.

It's helpful to have the ingredients measured out beforehand in candy-making because things will happen fast. You don't want to end up with a pan of burnt sugar because you waited until the last second to measure a teaspoon of vanilla.

Along with measuring out the ingredients, grease an 8x8" pan before you start cooking.

Bring the cream to a boil in a saucepan. Yes, I realize there is no boiling going on in this picture.

Add in the sugar and honey return it to a boil.

Continue cooking until the temperature reaches 275. It will take several minutes to heat all the way, but keep stirring the mixture so it doesn't burn. It's also important to use either a wooden spoon or a utensil that can handle high heat unless you don't mind ingesting melted plastic.

Once the mixture hits 275 remove it from the heat and add the vanilla, butter, and salt. Stir to combine and pour the caramel into the prepared pan.

I sprinkled some of the caramel with grey sea salt while it was still warm. Salted caramel. Yum.

Wait at least a few hours before slicing the caramel.

I wrapped each piece in wax paper to make cute little bundles and to prevent sticking. It's a bit of a pain to individually wrap them but worth it to not end up with a big blob of caramel.

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