Tuesday, January 01, 2008

HAPPY 2008!

HAPPY NEW YEAR , everyone! (Well, except to those in the Pacific time zone...you still have another 45 minutes or so to wait it out.) I suppose many of you are out whooping it up at big parties tonight? We had given some thought to hitting First Night Burlington across the lake in Vermont, but new snow on the ground today caused us to think better of it. Oh, who am I kidding? We're old and tired now and just as happy to stay home! At least we didn't fall asleep before the ball dropped the way my mom used to do. And we even had hats and horns! Red ones!

Other than the party attire, the rest of our New Year's celebration was pretty mellow. It was steak night for dinner, and we watched another great movie, Eastern Promises. (Though I warn you not to eat and watch it at the same time...it's engaging but grisly.) However, the real star of the evening was our fabulous pre-dinner cocktail. Now everyone who knows me knows that I am not a drinker. I will have a semi-annual margarita at each of two Faculty Association events a year, but that's about it. However, I have discovered another cocktail that I just love: the Lemon Drop Martini. It's called a Lemon Drop after the famous sour candy, and the resulting beverage tastes rather like grown-up lemonade but with a powerful punch! I had my first one at a restaurant called The Blackfish Cafe in Lincoln City on the central Oregon coast a couple of years ago while visiting my dear friend, John. But it doesn't seem to be as popular in the East for some reason, or maybe it's just a bit too foofy of a drink up here in the rural North Country? In any case, I decided to make my own, and my (lemony) twist on it is to make the drink with limoncello...HOMEMADE limoncello at that! You see, the problem with some Lemon Drops is that they involve sugar, and even superfine sugar (shaken not stirred!) is difficult to get to dissolve all the way, so you can end up with a grainy cocktail. And who wants that?

So, inspired by a lengthy thread on eGullet, I made my first attempt at a homemade liqueur, limoncello. It was surprisingly easy to make, requiring no real skill, only patience. To begin, you will need a large glass jar with a well-fitting lid for infusing the liquor with lemony goodness. You then zest a dozen bright-skinned lemons and one lime; the lime helps mimic the tarter Sorrento lemons of the Almalfi Coast of Italy, where this drink originated. (If you buy non-organic lemons, make sure to scrub them with a vegetable brush under hot running water to remove the wax and any residue from pesticides.) Ideally, you'll use a Microplane to get the finest shreds which makes more surface area for a better infusion. But I got bored after the first lemon and decided to use a regular vegetable peeler (taking care to press lightly and only remove the yellow skin and no bitter, white pith), and then I ground up the peels in my food processor. Worked like a charm! You add the zest to the glass jar and pour in one 750ml bottle of either Everclear or 100-proof vodka. The stronger spirits extract the lemon flavor more quickly and thoroughly, but may impart a harsh taste and burn to your final product. 100-proof vodka does just as well, though it may take some extra time for the infusion, but your finished liqueur should taste smoother. I went for option B, as I'm on vacay and have nothing but time on my hands. Store the jar in a cool dark place for at least ten days, preferably two weeks, and a month would be even better. Give it a shake every other day or so, and you'll know it's done with the lemon bits are whitish and brittle, and the vodka is a bright yellow.

When you feel like the vodka is no longer taking on additional color or aroma, strain out the zest (I used a mesh strainer lined with a paper coffee filter--that took roughly forever, but it made for a very clear result), and dilute with simple syrup. To make the simple syrup, mix three cups of water with three cups of sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and cool completely (adding warm simple syrup to your infusion will make it cloudy). Start with three cups of the simple syrup, and reserve one more in case you decide you need it later after tasting your concoction. Lastly, to the lemon-infused vodka and simple syrup, you will add one more 750ml bottle of regular 80-proof vodka. TA-DAH: homemade limoncello! You can drink this immediately (though freezing it first until lusciously viscous is both traditional and highly desirable), but I recommend letting the stuff stay in the jar for a few more days to a week to mellow a bit before sampling and bottling decoratively.

When you are satisfied with how your limoncello tastes, you may drink it straight like a cordial, or top off your iced tea with it, or make a fabulous martini like we did. I did a quick internet search for lemon cocktails made with limoncello, and I found the perfect recipe from, of all people, Sandra Lee. (The woman makes a lot of fake food, but always with a smart cocktail in her hand!) She called it the Lemon Cream Martini, and it was just what I had in mind, so I went off of that. In a shaker, you mix two ounces of vanilla vodka (we used Smirnoff), one ounce of limoncello, and crushed ice. Now Cyd and I debated about the vodka proportions. It was delicious as it was, but we liked it even better when we flipped it to two ounces of limoncello and one ounce of the vanilla vodka. Your call there. In any case, pour the icy mixture into martini glasses rimmed with sugar (preferably, vanilla sugar!), and top off with 7-Up/Sprite/Sierra Mist. I love the fizz of the soda (which is also how The Blackfish Cafe made theirs), and if you're a wimp like me, you can always use a larger proportion of soda than just a splash. If it were summer, I would do as Sandra Lee does and garnish with a few fresh blueberries. But I chose to use a couple of lemon peels this time. DELISH! But I warn you, be careful! It is almost too easy to drink and packs a real wallop! As I said, I rarely drink, and I had just ONE martini that was really more Sierra Mist than anything, and within a few minutes, I felt my cheeks burning, I started giggling uncontrollably, and Cyd said I "looked like a damn drunk!" Of course, I hadn't eaten all day, except for another Peppermint Mocha Frappucino at Starbucks. ;-) But remember, limoncello is the stuff that made Danny DeVito all loopy before he went on "The View" about a year ago. Imbiber, beware! But as long as you're in your own home on your own couch watching Seacrest and Dick Clark, what harm? It will certainly make for a very HAPPY Happy New Year! (Tee hee.)

P.S. Cyd said that I should send this shot into Absolut to use in their advertising. (Loving my new camera!) However, though the glass says Absolut, I used a new Polish vodka in the limoncello that I would HIGHLY recommend. It's called Sobieski, and it won both a gold medal and a best buy award at the prestigious International Review of Spirits Competition. It also earned a rating of 95 out of 100 (exceptional) and has been declared "an incredible value in a world of high-priced vodkas." I'm not sure if they declared that themselves, but I must concur. As super-premium vodkas have become astronomically priced, I was thrilled to find the Sobieski on sale for about nine bucks at my local Liquor and Wine Warehouse! Not bad for a vodka that is imminently sippable on its own, with "clear, spicy aromas of star anise, cream, minerals and powdered sugar follow[ing] through to a round, silky entry and a smooth off-dry medium-to-full body with a long, lingering whipped cream, spice, rye dough, and sweet citrus fade with virtually no heat. Great subtle, pure, and spicy rye flavors with a lively texture and superb smoothness." (The Beverage Tasting Institute) Check it out.


Just the Right Size said...

That IS a beautiful picture! You done good (and the drink sounds delish!)

Joy Bugaloo said...

Thanks! I love that picture turned out. I'm learning how to use my new camera...slowly but surely. ;-)

Thanks so much for posting a nice comment. I read through your blog, and we look to be kindred spirits. You also like canning and live on the Garden Web forums like I do! Tee hee.