Showing posts with label Homemade Spirit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homemade Spirit. Show all posts

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Ready, Set, Go: Make Italian Limoncello

For the moment, long distance travel to Italy, one of my favorite destinations, is not possible. To remind myself of my trip last fall to Milan and the Piedmont, I have been enjoying Italian treats. Charred red peppers topped with anchovies. Homemade pasta. And, limoncello.

From the scourges of the pandemic, we can learn that our good fortune is fragile and that our determination to overcome adversity is indomitable.

Staying safe at home, we're taking the long view.


The days are good. We do our work remotely. At dinner we watch the PBS NewsHourthen we stream episodes of the Swedish The Restaurant or the French The Bureau or the Israeli Shtisel.


We look forward to the time when we'll be able to have a meal at a restaurant, meet friends for a walk on the beach (even as we still observe social distancing), go to a movie theater and have a dinner party at our house.

To celebrate that time, I'm infusing spirits. Italian limoncello is made with vodka, a great number of lemon peels and simple syrup (sugar "melted" in water) and Japanese Umeshu (more about that in another post) is made with fresh Ume (green sour plums), Japanese rock sugar and vodka.

I make limoncello because my wife drinks an iced tea every afternoon. Now that our dining room is her "office," I know that her daily routine is to have an iced black tea with a lot of fresh lemons.

When Michelle leaves me her post-squeezed lemons, I trim off the white, bitter pith and add the peels to a jar of vodka I keep on a shelf in the garage. Day by day, the lemon peels accumulate and fill the jar.

Over time they transfer their citrus-intensity to the neutral vodka. The more time, the more depth of flavor.

Waiting six months is good. Twelve months is better. To transform the lemon infused vodka into limoncello, I'll add simple syrup and place the bottles in the freezer. When it's time to toast the resumption of our lives, we can raise our glasses with homemade limoncello and celebrate life!


Homemade Limoncello

I first enjoyed limoncello in Italy. Of course. Nothing could be better than sitting at a table at an outdoor cafe, watching people walk by, sipping an ice cold glass of limoncello. Italy has been through so much during the pandemic. So have we all. I can think of no better way to celebrate a return to our new-normal lives than to toast Italy and the resilience of life!

Cin Cin!

Since the vodka will be flavored with lemon peels and simple syrup, no need to buy a premium brand. Use an inexpensive spirit like the off-brands sold in supermarkets or in Smart & Final.

Only use unblemished lemon peels. Meyer lemons have a milder quality and I like to use them when available.


Select a large jar with room for the lemon peels. In general that means filling the jar only 2/3s with vodka, leaving the remainder of the space to be filled with lemon peels.

Do not add lemon juice.

The amount of simple syrup combined with the infused vodka depends on whether you enjoy a dry or a sweet limoncello.  I suggest as you add the simple syrup, taste as you combine the two. You might want to use less simple syrup. Any simple syrup not used can be saved indefinitely for other uses in cocktails, baking and cooking.

Ingredients

20 lemons, peels only, no juice, washed, white pith and pulp removed and discarded

Fifth of vodka

1 cup white sugar

1 cup water

Directions

Place the glass jar and lid into the dishwasher or wash with hot water and soap to sterilize.

Pour in vodka no more than 2/3s of the volume of the jar.

Add lemon peels as you use lemons. If you have a lemon tree, you will be able to add many lemon peels at once.

After six or more months, strain out lemon peels for another use. (Kept in a small amount of vodka, the peels will can be sliced thin and used to flavor cocktails and desserts.)

Measure and set aside vodka.

In a saucepan add an amount of white sugar that equals the amount of vodka.

To the saucepan, add an amount of water equal to the white sugar.

Set on a low flame. Do not stir or disturb.

As bubbles rise from the bottom of the pan, the sugar will slowly dissolve. When the sugar has dissolved completely, allow simple syrup to cool.


Combine simple syrup and vodka, tasting as you add to determine the level of sweetness you prefer. Mix well.

Keep bottle in freezer. Allow bottle to sit on the counter for 15 minutes and serve icy-cold.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Ready, Set, Infuse - It's Time to Make Homemade Umeshu, Japanese Plum Wine

If you love umeshu, Japanese plum wine, and you want to make your own, the race is on. Ume are only available for three-four weeks in the spring. Right now, in Los Angeles, they are available in Iranian and some Asian markets. Buy your ume right away or you will have to wait another year.

I first learned about umeshu from a supermarket news letter. Marukai, a Japanese market chain, with a store in West Los Angeles on Pico near Bundy, mails a magazine-style newsletter with the store's weekly specials. The opening article each month has an explainer about a particular Japanese food or cooking style.

The article described how to turn ume (Japanese plums) into umeshu (Japanese plum wine). The process was simple. Buy ume, wash them, pull out the little stems, place in a large glass jar, add Japanese rock sugar and a large bottle of vodka, put in a cool dark place and come back in a year.

Now I was on the hunt for ume. I found them at Marukai, at Iranian markets and downtown at a farmers market near the Los Angeles Public Library Main Branch.



Because I had made Limoncello, the idea of waiting a year appealed to me. And the added benefit of putting out very little effort added to what seemed like fun.



When we visited Yabu, our favorite Japanese restaurant, I told the waitstaff that I was going to make umeshu. They loved the idea. It turned out, when they were growing up, umeshu was a liquor made by their grandmothers. Store bought umeshu did not compare to their childhood memories.

They also told me was that after a year bathing in the vodka, the hard green ume would become sweetly edible.



Serving the fruit with the spirit is a nice touch. Kind of an alcoholic fruit punch. 
Umeshu or Japanese Plum Wine
Although frequently called plum wine, ume is actually more of a apricot than a plum and umeshu is a spirit, not a wine. 

Available in Japanese and Korean markets, ume are also sold in Middle Eastern grocery stores. Armenians and Iranians eat the unripened plums raw but do not use them to prepare a liquor. In Asia, ume are also eaten preserved in salt and called umebsoshi in Japan. 
Sold at a premium price because of the short growing season in the spring, only use green, unripe fruit. Blemished ume should not be used.

Available large and small, I prefer ume that are quarter-sized rather than dime-sized.

Some recipes call for each ume to be punctured all over with an ice pick. Doing so, it is said, accelerates the infusion process. That is probably true, but punctured ume discolor and are not good to eat.

Mention umeshu to someone from Japan and invariably they will smile

Traditionally umeshu is made by grandmothers. In the spring when the plums appear in the markets, bright green and hard as rocks, the grandmothers buy up all they can find, place them in a large jar, add rock sugar and shōchū (similar in taste to vodka). The jar is placed under the sink and everyone waits a year until the plums soften and the shōchū has mellowed.

A good friend described visiting her mother in Tokyo and finding a kitchen cabinet filled with giant jars labeled the year the umeshu was bottled. I have to confess, my garage has bottles of umeshu going back five years now. Today I bottled my 2019 vintage!

When you make your umeshu, wait one year. to enjoy it. Once the infusion is ready to serve,  taste and, if the umeshu is too harsh, add a tablespoon of Japanese rock sugar, stir well and wait another month.

The longer you wait, the more the umeshu will become rounded and mellow in flavor.  
After at least a year in their sweetened, alcoholic bath, the ume can be eaten. I like to include them in the cocktail, either whole or cut off the pit, chopped up and added as a flavor garnish that can be eaten with a small spoon.
Prep time: 10 minutes + one year
Yield: 2 quarts umeshu, 2 quarts macerated ume

Ingredients
2 pounds ume, washed, stems removed
1 pound Japanese rock sugar
1.75 l unflavored vodka, the most inexpensive you can find
Directions
1. Place the ume in a large bowl. Cover with water and let stand 2 hours. Drain, rinse and remove by hand any stems. Wash well a gallon glass jar with a lid.
2. Place the ume into the jar.
3. Add the rock sugar.
4. Pour in the vodka. Stir well.
5. Cover.
6. Place in a dark, cool area where the jar will be undisturbed for at least one year.
7. Serve ice cold with ice cubes, with seltzer and with whole or chopped up ume as a garnish.  








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