Category Archives: Stupid Easy

when life gives you lemons, go buy a shitload of everclear

My mother-in-law knows how to party.

c dawg

She keeps the wine glasses full and the cheese plate brimming. She is generous with her warmth, her conversation, her home-grown tomatoes in summer and rosemary in winter.

Cheryl’s birthday is in late January, and by some miracle of grace I managed to consider this fact back in early December when we were also trying to concoct a Christmas present for her. Now, everyone but Cheryl will tell you that she’s hard to buy for. “I’m easy!” she says. “I like everything!”

Right. Exactly.

We had just been over to the in-laws’ for dinner. Cheryl followed the meal with a moderate offering of her favorite liqueur (and possibly her favorite liquid), limoncello. Cheryl tells the story of her first encounter with the stuff: following a sumptuous meal in Italy, the server brought over little tiny glasses of an icy cold, screaming yellow drink. “We didn’t order this,” she and my pa-in-law humbly protested. “It’s included with the meal,” explained the server. And she took a sip and her socks blasted off her feet through the front of her shoes. She was in love–silly girly “Call Me Maybe” love.

So I decided to see if I could make some for her. I’m glad I started looking into this back in December because while it’s easy as pie to make at home, it does take about 5-6 weeks.

First, go buy 18 organic lemons. Or a lot of them. If they’re huge, buy 14. If they’re tiny, buy more. If I were really helpful, I’d be able to tell you how many pounds of lemons to buy but I just can’t. And I’m starting to think it’s not that important, because it doesn’t really seem like you can have too many lemons, only too few. What about Meyer lemons, you may ask? You can go that route, but be ready for some extra headache when peeling them because their skins are much thinner than their conventional counterparts. I went with your average organic lemon and have no regrets.

Now go to the liquor store and ask for 2 750 ml bottles of Everclear. You have to ask for it: envision innocent little me walking into a liquor store and looking around for a while, walking up to the counter with a perplexed look on my face when I couldn’t seem to find this iconic alcohol. See me ask the bleach-blonde clerk where they kept their Everclear. Imagine her wrist-flick-hair-toss and her “Ohmygod. We keep that stuff back here, sweetheart.”

IMG_2371

Some people do this with vodka (Giada de Laurentiis, I’m looking at you), but we don’t screw around.

Wash your lemons. Now, with a sharp paring knife and a lot of patience, you need to peel them all. Carefully. You want to avoid the white part of the peel (the pith) entirely; you ONLY want the bright yellow stuff that in other applications is zested. The pith is bitter. We don’t want a pithy limoncello. 

I did all my lemons in one go, but I imagine you could take your time and stick the lot in the fridge for a while if your hand cramps up. (Your fridge would smell great.) I brought out my mandoline slicer, put the blade at a very thin setting, and managed to speed up my process. By the 18th lemon I was getting so good at it that I was pulling off the zest in one long zest-slinky.

Stuff your peels into one half-gallon Mason jar (you’ll ultimately need two of these for this recipe)–you can find these at your local hardware or grocery store with a canning section. You could use pretty much any glass container with a well-sealing lid. Pour in both bottles of Everclear, cap tightly, and shake. Stick this gorgeous jar out of sight in a cool dark place. Back of the pantry worked for me. Back of a cupboard away from the stove would work, too.

IMG_2373

Now you have 18 naked lemons. Give your poor lemony hands a break and then juice your fruit. Put the juice in freezer bags or ice cube trays and stick them in the freezer. Feel smug about the immense quantity of high-quality lemon juice you now have at the ready for numerous sweet and savory flavor-boosting applications.

Every day or two for the next 2-3 weeks, say hello to your jar of limoncello-to-be. Pick it up lovingly and then shake the hell out of it.

After the appropriate time has elapsed, bring out the jar. Measure out 6 cups of white granulated sugar (no fancy turbinado or coconut palm shit for this application). Pour 5.5 cups water into a large saucepan and bring it up a to a boil. Slowly pour in the sugar, stirring with a whisk as you go to encourage the sugar to dissolve. Once it’s dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and allow it to cool to room temperature.

If your saucepan is big enough to accommodate your simple syrup and all the liquid from your Mason jar, great: set a strainer over your saucepan and dump the contents of the Mason jar into it. Let the peels drip drip drip and then set them aside–well, really, you’re going to be discarding them, but first you should have the opportunity to marvel at their neon yellow color and dessicated near-crystalline crispiness.

Also, how cool is it that you started out with two thin clear liquids and you ended up with a thick opaque one?!

Okay. Stir your limoncello and pour it into your two big Mason jars. Pop these back into their safe dark cool place for another 3 weeks and agitate the jars every day or so.

When your time is up, bring out the limoncello and pour it into pretty glass bottles with a rubber seal.

uh-oh.

Store the limoncello in the freezer (the alcohol content is far too high for this stuff to even consider freezing) and serve it icy cold and often–straight, or in your margarita, or a dash in your champagne, or on your vanilla ice cream.

uh-oh.

This recipe made enough for me to give Cheryl about two thirds (maybe even three quarters) of a gallon of limoncello. This may be my favorite gift-giving experience to date. I gave Cheryl her limoncello at her birthday dinner, out at an incredibly accommodating restaurant in NW. Can I tell you? I don’t want the manager to get in trouble, because when I asked him if I could whip it out so she could taste it–an unorthodox request to begin with–he dragged me over to the bar to let me choose which of their 6 different kinds of glasses would be best.

pretty presentation. THANK YOU, southland!

(The restaurant was Southland Whiskey Kitchen, and it’s exactly what Portland has needed since we got here. Amazing.) He gave us glasses for everyone, with one of their giant fancy ice cubes in each since the limoncello had been sitting out at room temp for a while.

So what did Cheryl think? Her face says it all.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

make some things last

Spring blows by. Two weeks ago I bounced on my toes about the first farmers’ market of the year.

And then it came and went! And the cherry blossoms bloomed on the waterfront and I saw them but didn’t take pictures and then they were gone. I just painted my toenails but they grew out and are all chipped and that felt like yesterday that I was leaning over my feet with the little pink paintbrush.

So I pickled some spring onions. Take that, Father Time.

Pickled Spring Onions in Lime Juice with Avocado Oil

Inspired by my Rachel, at whose table I first experienced this zingy condiment, and a blog she turned me on to, the fabulous Laylita’s Recipes

Ingredients

  • 8 medium spring onions–for me, that was 2 bunches. The pretty ones with purplish skin, if you can get them. Slice them fine fine fine with a sharp knife or mandoline, up to the light green stemmy part. Save the hollow green parts for something else, like a garnish for some simple catfish filets or put them in your sweet potato hash.
  • Juice of at least 10 limes. Go crazy with the juicer. If you don’t have a good juicer (we have this puppy which stood up to the task nobly), give up now or go get one.
  • 2 tablespoons of avocado oil. If you don’t have avocado oil and this sort of froofy ingredient splurge is not on your list, a fruity or even mild olive oil will also work nicely.
  • About a tablespoon of kosher salt, divided

Method

1. In a mixing bowl, toss the sliced onions with 2 tablespoons of the lime juice and half of the salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. They’re spring onions, but they still have a bite–these first couple steps will help calm it down some so that you won’t get heartburn by just looking at this stuff.

2. Cover the onions with lukewarm water. Let sit another 5 minutes.

3. Rinse and drain the onions in a colander. Give them a little squeeze to let them know you care.

4. Back in the mixing bowl, add the rest of the lime juice and your oil. Add the rest of the kosher salt and mix well to combine. You can put the mixture in a pretty jar or cover the bowl and stick it in the fridge… and you’re done!

I put this lovely condiment on fried eggs, beans and rice, fish, chicken, rice cakes with cottage cheese (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it)… all of the above. Have fun. Slow down.

Stupid Easy Shredded Chicken

Last night, we celebrated Cinco de Mayo. Are we Mexican? Well, my mom’s dad’s mom was from Hermosillo, and Sandra’s beau is half. And any reason to thumb our noses at the politics of Arizona and eat tacos is a good reason.

please

I went nuts at New Seasons Market. We had fresh cotija cheese, cubed avocado, shredded cabbage with lime juice and cilantro, the pico de gallo my grandfather taught me to make (so, technically Costa Rican), neon pink cebollas encurtidas (aaaand Ecuadorian), and my homemade corn tortillas. Which I argue also fall into the category of “stupid easy,” but I digress. I made two fillings: a sweet-hot ancho chili- and cumin-spiced sweet potato and red kidney bean vegetarian option and killer shredded chicken for the omnivores.

I first made this chicken last fall in a fit of frugality. I bought a whole chicken and planned to use the resulting shredded meat for a number of meals throughout the week–soup, salad, casserole (or a “bake” as my Midwestern stepmom and I call it, thinking ourselves above the stereotypical “hot dish” of our region). I wasn’t prepared for the succulent results and between Jesse, Rachel, and me (yes, me not I) the chicken was gone within two days, filling impromptu tacos or eaten surreptitiously and cold out of the fridge.

Minneapolitans–the chickens they sell at the Whole Foods in St. Louis Park are fabulous. I, of course, used my Costco chicken.

Stupid Easy Shredded Chicken

Equipment

Slow cooker big enough to fit your chicken, but not much bigger

Tongs (makes the bone removal easier)

Ingredients

1 4 lb.-ish organic chicken

1 yellow onion*

1 (big!) head of garlic

Half a lemon, any variety

2-3 T good-tasting olive oil

1 T paprika

2 T kosher salt

Fresh cracked black pepper, at least 1 tsp and more to taste

1 T lard or rendered bacon fat** (optional… sort of)

Method

1. Prep your veggies: peel and cut the onion into slender crescents. Peel the entire head of garlic. Plop all of the onion and half of the garlic cloves into your slow cooker.

2. Prep your chicken rub: combine salt, pepper, paprika, and olive oil to make a paste.

3. Remove giblets and skin your chicken. Or have the butcher do it for you. Or buy skinless BONE-IN chicken thighs, legs, and a few breasts. If those Costco chickerms weren’t in our freezer, I’d probably have gone this route in order to bypass the skinning. As it happens, I went a little Hannibal Lecter and decided to skin the thing in one piece, the way some people peel an orange. It took 20 minutes, but I did it. I’m afraid to think too hard about what this might say about me.

4. Slather the chicken in the paprika-salt-pepper-oil rub. Use it all. Have too much? No you don’t. Dump it into the slow cooker, too.

5. Put the chicken in the slow cooker. Put the half lemon and the rest of the garlic cloves into the chicken cavity.

6. Cover the slow cooker, turn that sucker to low, and walk away. Go do other stuff for 6 or so hours. I went for a hike with Sandra in Tryon Creek. The exact timing will depend upon your slow cooker, really–I used one that by Velveteen Rabbit standards is Real at this point, and since I wasn’t sure if I could trust it to do what I wanted, I started out with the thing on high for a couple hours and then had my future father-in-law switch it to low before he headed out for his daily walk a couple hours later. Seriously. Walk away. Don’t mess with the chicken at all–it’ll make it much harder to get the bones out later if you do. Don’t worry that there’s no cooking liquid, or much fat; there’s enough fat, and the onions and lemon and garlic and bones will produce enough liquid. Trust.

7. As you’re prepping all your other taco accoutrements, pause to de-lid your slow cooker and, tongs in hand, gingerly begin removing the bones. If you haven’t messed with the chicken, an observant eye and a very basic understanding of chicken anatomy (“there are the legs! there are the wings! there are the ribs and the backbone!”) will help you hone in on each bone. You might still want to warn your fellow diners to keep their eyes peeled, however. Once you’ve gotten all the bones you can find, go nuts with those tongs. Shred that chicken. You could probably just look at it hard and it would shred itself.

8. About 10 minutes before serving, mix in that tablespoon of lard or rendered bacon fat. This turns the shredded chicken from something amazing into something aMAZing–as you stir it in, you’ll see the chicken turn a richer shade of brown. It adds and element of silkiness and sabor you simply can’t get from anything else.

9. Serve! And be amazed that such a simple combo created such deliciousness.

*My grandfather taught me that the flatter onions are the sweeter onions. I don’t know if it’s true, but he was pretty adamant and it’s guided my onion selection for my entire culinary life.

**Are you not saving your rendered bacon fat yet? Pour it off into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (mine’s a PB jar) and let it cool for a while before you pop it in the fridge. You can also buy lard, aka manteca, at some Latino groceries that also prepare food. It’s worth it.