Saturday, July 30, 2011

Limoncello AKA Liquid Gold

Do you remember the movie Under the Tuscan Sun?  Remember when the heroine, AKA Diane Lane, meets the Italian dude, Marcello, and he takes her to the coast and tells her about the drink his family makes, called Limoncello?
Mine came out a little darker, because I used organic can sugar for the sugar syrup.

Such a romantic (if not a little corny) part of the movie, but for me I always remembered how yummy that drink sounded.  Fast forward a bit to my obsession with Giada De Laurentis, and there it is, in her book, Everyday Italian, she has the recipe for Capri's, the region of Italy that is known for Limoncello, and the recipe for making the key ingredient, Limoncello, from scratch.  These days, Limoncello can be easily found at grocery stores such as Trader Joe's & Bev Mo, but making it from scratch is really the way to go.  Patience is key.

Giada's recipe only calls for letting the lemon peels steep in the vodka for about 5 days, but the longer you let it sit, the better.  I have seen recipes that call for a total of 90 days of wait.  Now,  I'm sure it turns out amazing, but 3 months?  I don't know if I can be that patient...maybe one day I will actually try to wait that long.  I have also seen reference to a "scum" forming in the bottle, and the need to filter the mixture when it is done, through coffee filters.  Maybe because Giada's recipe only suggests it sit for 5 days, this film does not develop yet, hence, I found no need to filter it.

I believe the key to this recipe turning out right though, is making sure you remove all the pith from the lemon peels.  That is the white part that is left on the peel after you peel it from lemon. The pith, if left on, will make the drink bitter, which will ruin the overall flavor.  My 15 year-old daughter and I sat at the kitchen table, each with a paring knife in hand, and peeled all the white part off, it took some time, but went faster with both of us doing it.

Remember to juice  your lemons after you peel them and save the juice to make Capri's, a wonderful, light cocktail perfect for a summer evening.  I don't worry about measuring, I just add a bit of juice, Limoncello, & Sparkling water, preferrably San Pellegrino brand.

I have been very happy with this recipe, although I know diehards will say it needs to sit much longer.  
Ingredients to make a Capri!
appy with and it didn't require waiting until Christmas to drink it!


  • 10 lemons
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle vodka
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar


Makes 7 cups

Using a vegetable peeler remove the peel from the lemons in long strips (reserve the lemons for another use). Using a small sharp knife, trim away the white pith from the lemon peels; discard the pith. Place the lemon peels in a 2-quart pitcher. Pour the vodka over the peels and cover with plastic wrap. Steep the lemon peels in the vodka for 4 days at room temperature.
Stir the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Pour the sugar syrup over the vodka mixture. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer. Discard the peels. Transfer the limoncello to bottles. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 month.

* Note- I left some of the peels in the limoncello after I transferred it to a bottle, I figured it couldn't hurt it, and would probably make it even more flavorful.

So, if you want a killer lemony liquer, head to the store, or your backyard if you are lucky enough to have a lemon tree, and whip up a batch, or two, of this yummy elixer!

Happy Cooking,

Friday, July 1, 2011

I love eggs!!

For me, eggs are one of the most versatile ingredients.  They can be eaten at any meal, and they are a wonderful source of protein, at 6 grams per egg.  To keep my cholesterol in check, I sometimes just use the whites, although nothing compares to a delicious egg, pan-fried in olive oil, or a tender poached egg atop Eggs Benedict.  Baked, fried, scrambled, made into quiches or fritattas, there are endless ways to serve them.  Today, I am sticking with a simple fried egg, my own version of good old, "eggs & toast", with a tribute to my Italian heritage.

I love to experiment with eggs, adding different veggies, pesto, and cheeses.  A very easy and quick dinner the other night consisted of eggs, bread, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, & red potatoes.  It was so yummy for a late night dinner, that I had it again for breakfast a few days later.
The only thing missing was a crispy piece of prosciutto topping it off.  Next time I will be sure to have it on hand to add a little salty bite.

A few simple ingredients, and a delicious, quick, healthy meal was made.  I am always looking for meatless recipe ideas, as my youngest daughter is currently a vegetarian. 
Cook up some red potatoes, thinly sliced onion, and fresh garlic in olive oil for a yummy little side to your eggs.  I pre-cooked the potatoes in the microwave for  a minute or two to shorten their time in the pan.

I first toasted some french bread, drizzled with olive oil, on my stove-top grill, then rubbed it with a cut garlic clove.  Next, add sliced tomatoes (not yet ready from my garden, but these were very good from Costco).  Then top with little balls of fresh mozzarella, and with the heat on low,  cover with a pan lid to melt the cheese a little.  Ciliegine was the name of the cheese I used.  Season with salt & pepper, and some fresh basil if you have it, and wallah! You have a delicious appetizer or light lunch with a salad.  I chose to serve mine with a fried egg.

Since we are a mostly vegetarian family now, we served ours with veggie sausage patties, but I would still opt for some crispy prosciutto.

The eggs made such a yummy partner with the crispy bread, melty cheese, and sweet tomato.  Sitting outside eating this meal, I almost felt like I was in Italy!!

Buon Appetito!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More from my favorite guys at Baked...

I have lots of ideas and recipes I want to try out and share with you, but for now I am re-posting a wonderful recipe for some really delicious, quick, and easy muffins from the boys over at Baked.

This recipe can also be found in their cookbook Baked, New Frontiers in Baking.  This is the second time I've made it and it's even better than I remembered, and  great way to use those ugly looking bananas that you forgot to eat! 

So perfect with a cup of coffee or cappuccino (my personal fav) in the morning!

The amazing taste of fresh banana, chocolate, and just a hint of espresso...Yummm!  Now, imagine taking it over the top and adding a smear of peanut butter!! AHHHHH!  To die for!!

Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins
Recipe courtesy of Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

1-1/2 cups mashed, very ripe bananas (about 4)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup whole milk (I used cream, didn't have any whole milk on hand)
1 large egg
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. In a medium bowl, stir together the bananas, sugars, butter, milk, and egg. In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, instant espresso powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and stir just until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Fill each cup about 3/4 full. Bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffin comes out clean. Move the muffin pan to a cooling rack, and let cool for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the muffins from the pan and let them finish cooling on the cooling rack. Muffins can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Makes approx. 12 muffins

*Notes- I use paper cupcake/muffin liners for my pans, it saves having to spray and keeps them sanitary when handling for packaging, etc.  Also, I ran slightly short with the banana, I only had 3, but the recipe still came out great!
Watch out, this recipe makes just a small batch, as in 12.... if your family is anything like mine, they will be gone in about the same amount of hours!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Favorite Things...

One of my favorite foods is a delicious sandwich.  There are so many possibilities of meats, veggies, & cheese combinations that can be made into a myriad of handheld creations.

I guess I love the versatility of a sandwich, it can be hot or cold, with melted cheese, sauced, or not, there are just so many options, even for those with food restrictions or vegetarians.  Some of my favorite sandwiches don't have any meat at all.

But today, I will share with you a little sandwich recipe that has bacon, and as we all know, you can never really go wrong with bacon.  It's really just a glammed up BLT, but I like the Californian and Italian twist, which is totally me, being half Italian and born and raised in Cali.

The picture doesn't really do it justice, but you can imagine all the flavors and textures of this yummy sandwich.

Here's the recipe, although you can change up the ingredients to suit your personal tastes...

Lisa's Italian-Cali BST

Sourdough Baguette
Goat Cheese log
Fresh Spinach
Apple Smoked Bacon, cooked ( I use the baked method on a sheet pan in 400 degree oven to desired crispiness)
Red onion, sliced
Avocado, sliced
Bruschetta (recipe below)
1 - 2 tsp. Olive Oil per sandwich

Cut and split the baguette to desired size for each sandwich.  Brush lightly with olive oil and toast on grill pan, outdoor grill, or under the broiler for just a few minutes.  Spread warm bread with goat cheese on top and bottom pieces.  Layer 2-3 slices bacon, avocado, bruschetta, red onion and finally the spinach.  Slice in half and ENJOY!!

4 med. or 6 sm. fresh tomatoes, evenly diced in small pieces*
3-6 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
1/4-1/2 C. fresh, Italian, flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
2-3  fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1/4 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Approx., add amount you desire for juiciness)
Sea Salt & Freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a med. glass bowl.  Taste for seasoning.   Allow to sit for a few minutes at room temp. for the flavors to really meld.  Leftovers can be kept in fridge and used on toasted bread, or as a condiment for chicken, fish, eggs, or combined in sauces, either fresh or cooked.  It's a very versatile flavor addition to almost any dish.

*Note:  Find the closest thing to homegrown tomatoes for this recipe if you cannot grow your own.  Try Farmer's Markets, or "on the vine" type in grocery stores.

I hope you enjoy this scrumptious, flavorful sandwich as must as I do!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Farmer's Markets

One of my favorite things to do during the summer is to visit the local farmer's markets that surround the area I live in.  If I had the time, I could probably find a market somewhere locally almost every day of the week here in Northern CA. 

At this time of year, all the markets are up and running, some are even on a year-round schedule.  Right now, the cool season crops, such as broccoli, artichokes, lettuces, chard, beets, & potatoes seem to be prominant.  Also, I can't forget to mention the strawberries, they are so sweet and plump right now, I find myself walking out with a half flat for just my daughter and I.

The corn is from Trader Joe's, I forgot that when I took the picture.
Corn is not yet at the markets, later in summer it will be plentiful

Yesterday I visited a market that is open on Saturday mornings, and is only a 10-15 minute drive away for me.  My goal this summer is, other than what I am growning in my own garden, to buy all my produce at markets or fruit/veggie stands that are also close by.  I also plan to visit some markets I haven't yet been to.  You just can't beat the freshness and wonderful variety that one can find in a farmer's market.  It's also good to buy local, in-season fruits and vegetables.  The cheerful, upbeat atmosphere is also another great reason to visit markets whenever possible.  You're out in the fresh air, people are happy and relaxed, and the vendors are friendly and helpful.  If  you've never been to a Farmer's Market, or haven't been lately, take the time next weekend (or during the week if you are lucky enough to have one availble to you), visit your local market.  You won't be sorry!

 This week I purchased the following:                                       

Italian Parsley
Red & yellow potatoes
Artichokes (not pictured, we at them already!)
Shitake mushrooms
Spring Mix lettuces
2 small Foccacia breads, Pesto & Tomato

I bought some bruised white peaches for 1/2 price, and used them for a yummy recipe I found in the current issue of Food Network Magazine.  It was really good, especially with my morning coffee today. The artichokes were promptly eaten for dinner last night, with one of the foccacias, also sold to me at a discount.  I was there at the end of the market, and often the vendors don't want to have to pack anything back up, so they will offer discounts.

The fun part of buying fresh, local produce, is coming home and deciding how to cook it!
The peach and pecan cake was delicious this morning with a cup of coffee and sweet strawberries.

Fresh Peach Cake
by Ina Garten, courtesy of Food Network Magazine



  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 large, ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced
  • 1/2 C. chopped, toasted pecans

Yummy, moist cake with fresh peaches & pecans.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon.

Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half of the peaches, then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture.* Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top, and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.

Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*My change in this recipe for next time will be to increase the amount of sugar & cinnamon to 1 C. sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon for the sprinkling.  I think it needed more of vein of cinnamon sugar running through it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Healthy Dinners

I've been MIA on this blog, but not because I haven't been cooking or baking, but I just haven't had the time to photograph and write about what I've been up to.  Now that is stays light out later, it will be easier to snap a few pictures when I am preparing a meal or whipping up a treat.

Spring is finally here in California, and with it comes longer days, and for me, a desire to get outside in my yard and enjoy this beautiful weather.  Creating, quick, easy, healthy meals is a must at this time of year and all through summer.  Who wants to spend hours over a hot stove, when the weather is gorgeous outside??  As much as I love hearty (sometimes fattening), comfort food in Winter, I crave lighter, healthier meals in Spring and Summer. 

Weeknight meals call for even simpler dishes, so tonight my daughter and I whipped up a very quick and equally healthy dinner.

For a healthy and quick side dish, you've got to try couscous.  I prefer the whole wheat version, for the  added health benefits and the fact that you really can't taste the difference.  My favorite way to eat it is as a salad with lots of fresh raw and/or blanched veggies with a light olive oil and vinegar dressing.  Crumble in some feta cheese, and tada... you have a quick and healthy side dish or lunch entree.

When I'm cooking,  I love to come up with recipes that include ingredients which can easily be changed up.  I believe creativity is a key ingredient to delicious food.  So, with that in mind, use any combination of vegetables you have on hand.  Tonight we happened to have a lot of fresh asparagus, but broccoli would have been great too.  If I had my way, I would have thrown in a few dried cranberries at the end as well, for a chewy, sweet surprise, but my 15 year-old wouldn't go for it.

We served this yummy couscous salad alongside quick pan-seared salmon with a creamy yogurt herb sauce (my 15 year-old made this).

The leftover salad is already packed up for my lunch at work tomorrow, it tastes just as good the next day.

Fresh & Healthy Couscous Salad
Remember not to limit yourself , use whatever you have on hand.   The other great thing about this recipe, is you really don't have to measure anything.  Just add your preference of vegetables and season to taste.  Tonight we used blanched asparagus, fire roasted red & yellow peppers, red onion, raw carrot & spinach, and crumbled feta cheese.
  • Prepared whole wheat couscous
  • Any assortment of  the following chopped veggies:  red onion, cucumber, red or yellow peppers (these can be fresh or roasted from a jar), tomatoes (fresh or sundried), blanched* asparagus or broccoli, grilled eggplant, fresh avocado, carrots, spinach.
  • Crumbled feta cheese
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • White & Red Balsamic Vinegar (I  like a combo of both, but you can use whatever you have on hand)
  • Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
Prepare couscous according to package directions, substituting olive oil for the butter.  Remove from heat and allow to cool somewhat.  Transfer to a glass serving/mixing bowl.  Add chopped fresh and cooled,  cooked veggies, toss with olive oil, vinegar, salt & pepper. You will need more oil and vinegar than you might expect, as the couscous absorbs a lot of the liquid.  The salad should not be swimming is dressing, but have a nice flavor.   Mix in crumbled feta cheese.  Eat immediately at room temperature, or chill for an hour to overnight.

 *Blanching means to bring a pan or pot of water to a boil, drop in vegetables for just a minute or two, and drain and rise immediately with cold water or submerge in an ice bath.  This will stop the cooking process so the veggies stay bright and crisp.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pure Indulgence

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything over here, which doesn't mean I haven't been cooking and baking, but I have been a little busier than usual. 

Rich, buttery, peanut butter goodness!
A few days ago I tried a recipe I saw Giada De Laurentis make on her show Giada at Home.  It sounded so yummy, and it definitely did not disappoint.

I really don't know how she stays so thin, she must take only one bite of everything she cooks!  I wish I had that kind of will power.

So, here is the recipe, it is by far the best pound cake I have ever tasted, it almost tastes more like a cookie.  I added some mini peanut butter and chocolate cups, but they kind of melted into the batter.  I also under baked this just a tad, it was a little gooey in the center.  So next time, and there will be a next time, I will keep it in the oven for a few more minutes.  I usually cut my baking times a bit since my oven seems a little hotter than normal.  Next time I make it, I'm going to fold in some semi-sweet chocolate chips, which will hold their shape and add another level of yumminess!

A tip I have here that would have helped me with the baking time is to use a light colored loaf pan.  I haven't bought a new one in years, and mine is still the old dark, nonstick type, which I really don't like.  The next item I purchase for my kitchen will be a new loaf pan.


  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 1 (9.5-ounce) bag soft caramel candies, unwrapped (recommended: Kraft Classic Caramels) *
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter


Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 9-by-5-by-3-inch nonstick, metal loaf pan with vegetable oil cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a 14-by-3 1/2-inch piece of parchment paper. Spray with vegetable oil cooking spray. Line the sides of the pan with a 14-by-7-inch piece of parchment paper. Set aside.

In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the caramel candies and heavy cream over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the candies have melted and the mixture is smooth, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the eggs and vanilla. With the machine running, gradually add the flour mixture in batches to form a thick batter. Beat in the peanut butter. Transfer half of the batter to the prepared pan. Pour 2 tablespoons of the caramel lengthwise along the center of the batter. Using the tip of a knife, swirl the caramel sauce into the batter. Place the remaining batter on top and pour another 2 tablespoons of the caramel sauce lengthwise along the center of the batter. Swirl the caramel sauce into the batter. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs, 55 to 60 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and peel away the parchment paper. Cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour (center of cake will fall during cooling). Slice the pound cake and place on a serving platter. Warm the remaining caramel sauce over low heat. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the pound cake slices or serve alongside.

* I used Target's brand, it it tasted just fine.

I highly recommend you try this recipe, especially if you love peanut butter and caramel!  And who doesn't, right?