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Photo by gemmarose

I love any sort of hot drink — coffee, hot chocolate, chai tea lattes… If you add alcohol to any of those things, I am doubly happy. And if you know me, you know I also love wine. So how to put all of my favorite things into one glass? Mulled wine. It’s great for a cold afternoon, and a perfect end to a Thanksgiving day where you’ve eaten way too much and are too tired to chew. So don’t.

It’s super easy to make. Once it’s done, put in a crock pot to keep warm. I love that you can serve alcohol in mugs. (I mean, you can technically drink alcohol out of a shoe…) My husband and I got his/hers mugs for our wedding that say “His Better Half”, “Her Better Half”. I drink coffee every day. My husband doesn’t use his. I tell him that’s because he’s not my better half, I am. (He doesn’t care.)

Anyways, here’s the recipe. Everything is to taste, so tweak it to your taste.

You will need:

  • 1 bottle wine
  • 2 cups juice (I used cranberry, but apple works as well)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 oranges, rind removed, cut up
  • 1 lemon, rind removed, cut up
  • Spices: To taste, of course. 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tsp whole peppercorns, 5 buds of cardamom, 1/2 vanilla bean, 1 tbsp fresh ginger and 1/2 tsp cloves (Whole Foods bulk spice section is a great place to get the spices you need without buying a ton.)

Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients into a pot on stove.
  2. Let boil and then simmer for an hour.
  3. Strain spices out and put in crock pot to serve.  Option: Let everything sit, unstrained, overnight for the flavors to infuse more. Strain in the morning.
  4.  Heat in crock pot before serving in mugs

Enjoy!

~ Dana

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This is another great picnic or party dish that light but full of flavor. And it only takes about 20 minutes to make from start to finish which might be the best part. No, it’s the taste. I saw this on Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks site (Have I mentioned how much I love her work? If not, you should check her out). Since I was planning to make this for myself and not a crowd, I divided the recipe by fourths and just made a quarter of the amount. It worked out perfectly. You’ll have to adjust the ingredients a bit to your taste. I love garlic so I used a little (ok, maybe a lot) more than the recipe calls for but you might want to increase the salt, pepper, lemon, etc. Another thing I really love about this recipe is the fact that it doesn’t require mayonnaise. I’m not anti-mayo but I always love an alternative.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1/4 cup / 60 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups thinly sliced green onions {~3-4 bunches}
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • fine grain sea salt
  • lots of freshly ground black pepper
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/3 cup / 2 oz grated Parmesan
  • 4 big handfuls arugula
  • 1 large apple, diced
Directions
  1. Cook the macaroni in a large pot of well-salted water per package instructions. Set aside at least 1/2 cup / 120ml pasta water. Then drain pasta and set aside.
  2. In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large skillet until hot. Add most of the green onions, all of the garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onions soften, and the garlic begins to take on some color, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for a couple minutes.
  3. Use a hand blender or food processor to puree the green onion mixture along with 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, zest of the lemon, half the lemon juice, and the reserved pasta water. Puree and taste. The green onion flavor should be assertive. Stir in the Parmesan.
  4. Combine the macaroni with the green onion sauce in a large bowl. Toss well. Add the arugula and most of the apple and toss again. Taste, and add more pepper, salt, or lemon juice if needed. Serve topped with the remaining apple and green onion.

~Christina

What could be more appropriate to eat on American Independence Day than cherries? For a summer picnic I made two different types of crostini, made light and bright with a base of lemony ricotta. The first was topped with sliced figs and honey. I made two versions of the fig crostini. The first time, I used chestnut honey and I discovered that do no like chestnut honey for the same reason I don’t like sheep’s milk cheeses. To me, sheep’s milk cheeses remind me of the smell of a petting zoo. When we were little and went to the petting zoo we would feed little goats and sheep with a handful of pellets you could buy for 25 cents. I have never forgotten that smell, unfortunately, because whenever I eat cheeses made of sheep’s milk I can “taste” the smell of sheep. I don’t know if all chestnut honey tastes like this or it was the region or producer that made a difference but I was not a fan. So I made the fig crostini a second time with regular clover honey and it was much better.

The cherry crostini is simple and delicious. It’s sweeter than the fig crostini but you can control the level of sweetness with the amount of sugar you use. Lastly, I squeezed lemon juice into the ricotta but feel free to use lemon zest if you prefer.

Fig and Honey Crostini

Ingredients

  • figs
  • honey of choice
  • lemon juice (or zest)
  • ricotta
  • baguette of choice
Directions
  1. Cut baguette at an angle into slices. Brush with olive oil and toast in a 375° oven for approximately 5 minutes.
  2. Add lemon juice or zest to ricotta to desired taste. Spread on toasted bread slices.
  3. Slice figs and place on top of each slice. Drizzle with honey.
  4. You can also sprinkle the crostini with salt and pepper, if you wish.
Cherry Crostini
Ingredients
  • sweet cherries
  • light brown sugar
  • ricotta
  • lemon
  • baguette
Directions
  1. De-pit and chop the cherries. Add brown sugar and mash them until combined and a little juicy.
  2. While the cherries are sitting, brush the baguette slices with olive oil and toast in the oven.
  3. Add lemon juice or zest to ricotta to desired taste. Spread on toasted bread slices.
  4. Spoon cherries on top of each slice.
~Christina
 
When I told my husband I was making ricotta from scratch, he looked confused, said “why?”, and shrugged. Clearly he was not going to be impressed by my cheese-making skills. But someone was going to be. So I forced my friend Litonya to have a fake wine bar night with me, where I’d prepare appetizers and she’d bring wine, and we’d pretend we were somewhere cool besides my new house that is full of empty boxes from unpacking. And you know what? It kind of worked. I made Ricotta-Lemon-Hazelnut Crostini among other things, and the wine was great. The ricotta cheese was amazing — light and fluffy, and nowhere near anything you could buy in the store. I used a recipe from epicurious and was super surprised at how easy it was. The cheese was lemony and fresh, and somewhat sweet.
You will need:
  • 2 quarts whole milk (Note: Make sure it’s not ultra-pasteurized. If the milk could be fresh from the cow, that would be even better, but ultra pasteurized won’t curdle.)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Special equipment: large colander, fine-mesh cheesecloth (Note: You can get this at most better grocery stores. Whole Foods carries these.)
1. Line a large colander with a layer of heavy-duty (fine-mesh) cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.
2. Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

3. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes. (Note: You’ll see the texture in the picture above. When it looks like cottage cheese, it’s ready to come off. It’s not supposed to be thick yet.)

4. Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered; it will keep in the refrigerator 2 days. This makes about 3 cups of cheese.

What to do with a bowl of fresh ricotta? I was tempted to make a dish of lasagna, but instead I picked a more sweet route. I decided to make lemon-ricotta-hazelnut crostini. They were super easy. (Side note: I tossed a spoonful of the ricotta into my pasta pomodoro the next day. Divine.)

Lemon-Ricotta-Hazelnut Crostini

What’s great about these from a balance standpoint is that it all works. The honey contrasts with the salty hazelnuts. The smooth ricotta balances with the crunchy nuts and bread, and the lemon pulls out the citrus from the cheese. It is super light (but full fat at the same time…). Drink with a light, citrusy white wine that doesn’t overpower the flavors, like an Albariño.

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
  • vegetable oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1 lemon to zest
  • Orange-blossom honey
  • baguette

1. First you have to blanch the hazelnuts. To do this, preheat the oven to 350 and place them on a lined cookie sheet. Toast them until they are slightly brown. Using a dishtowel, rub the hazelnuts until the outer shell comes off of them, and they are smooth.

2. Crack the hazelnuts to create smaller pieces. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle a little oil over them. Sprinkle salt over them and toss to coat.

3. Slice the bread and toast in the oven until crusty and light golden brown.

4. Assemble the crostini by placing ricotta on top of the crostini, drizzling the honey and zesting the lemon on top of it.

5. Sprinkle crostini with salted hazelnuts and serve.

Enjoy!

~ Dana

The happiest day of my life, besides my wedding day. (Almost a tie...)

Up until a few weeks ago, every Wednesday at 10PM, like clockwork, my husband would get annoyed. I would sit on the couch and ignore him while watching Top Chef All Stars. The night when Chef Carla Hall was eliminated was an especially rocky night. I swore an oath of silence the rest of the night, with my husband reminding me that it was just a show about cooking. “You’re not going to eat the food.” he says. Ridiculousness, truly. Does he know who he married??

There was just something about Carla that I was rooting for. Was it the fact that she had big, curly hair like me? Or that she says “ya’ll”, even to Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi? Either way, when I found out that Groupon was selling a class of food and wine pairings with her in the Maryland area, I was all over it. I scooped up the tickets (at $125, mind you), with my friend Tiffani, and we were off, camera in hand.

The class took place at her catering location, Alchemy Caterers. The front of the classroom was outfitted with a camera and screen so we could see her cooking and techniques. What I loved about it was that she gave cooking tips throughout her demonstration. She was super chatty, and it was like cooking in a friend’s kitchen. Her mom was there, who by the way, she looks just like.

She was very animated, as you can see..

A few highlights:

Top Chef: She said that she went back to All Stars kicking and screaming. Not because of the competition, but because of what Top Chef did to her business afterwards. She said that afterwards, her catering business blew up. That said, she booked jobs months and months out. And going back to Top Chef All Stars meant outsourcing those catering events.  I mean, think about it, you book Chef Carla Hall, and she can’t do it because she’s in New York. I get it. Great to hear from a chef with real business acumen.

Paula Deen: She said that Paula was an interesting character…. I won’t type all of what she said here, but if you call me, I’ll tell you. Carla said she truly uses butter to a whole other level. If you watch the show, you see that there’s one point at the end of the show where they make a sweet tea lemonade with a little bit of almond extract. She said when she drank it, she was instantly reminded of her grandmother from Tennessee. She teared up — that part was edited out.

The Chew, her new talk show: She was super excited about the show, which she said was still a little surreal. She said when she came into the audition and saw Clinton Kelly (What Not to Wear), she was like “Oh Lord, they’re coming to get me.” (If you haven’t seen the show, they ambush people to do a makeover. Yes, Miss Sweat Pants, I’m talking to you…) The show is going to start filming in September, in New York. Read about it here.

Her Future Cafe: Right now, to fund her dream of a cafe, she is selling mini cookies. (click here for details) She wants to open a cafe/market/kitchen. The concept would be to come in and sit and eat, or if you don’t have time, take something to go, and in the same facility take a class to learn how to cook whatever it is you like there. Those plans are on hold right now, while she works on The Chew.

Jimmy Fallon: She said he’s totally cool. Carla won a cooking segment with Jimmy Fallon from one of the challenges on Top Chef, for her pot pie recipe. She said he is the same in person as he is on TV. She said the Roots were doing it up with the music, so she forgot she was on camera, and was dancing like crazy.

Those trips she won on Top Chef: She hasn’t had a chance to take them yet. She just got the car. Aaand…as we all know from working in corporate, most checks don’t come quickly, so she’s still waiting on the fan favorite check.

The Flavor Bible: I swear by this book. And she does too. It’s an amazing well, bible, for pairing flavors. Check it out here. You can decide you want to cook with goat cheese tonight, and literally look up items to cook with it. The book helps you to become a more intuitive chef, so that you depend less on recipes.

Her Cookbook: She just pitched a cookbook, which of course everyone is interested in. Her husband will take pictures for the book.

Carla’s Cookies

Words of wisdom: “Say no to nothing, and say yes to moderation.” (I totally agree, although I have a problem with the moderation part.) “Know your palette so that you can say something is not what you like versus not being good.”

THE FOOD

They partnered with a local wine vendor, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, who provided the wine tastings. (And I say tastings, not pairings, because the guy was super stingy with my wine portions. Just cause I’m small doesn’t mean I can’t drink. See below for Exhibit A.)

Tell me that guy wasn’t stingy with the wine. Seriously…

As you all know, I don’t do pork and red meat, which I told Julie, who books the classes, and she said the Chef would be happy to modify. And…not a speck of red meat or pork on the menu. Love it! I’ll post the recipes tomorrow, but here is a preview:

Goat Cheese and Leek Tart paired with Koonowla Riesling 2008

Persian Turkey Sliders on Za’tar Pita with Cumin Aioli paired with Dry Creek Heritage Zinfandel 2007

Roasted Lemon Thyme Chicken with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes paired with Cabirau Serge and Tony Grenache 2007

Chocolate Mousse Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Salted Caramel Sauce paired with Icardi Brachetto 2009

Casa is participating in Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

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