Capri-Style Limoncello

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Mom meditating in the Capri Sun.

Years ago, I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Italy with my Mom. One of the places we visited was the Isle of Capri. It’s a stunning place: bright and sunny, with flavors equally reflecting the vibrant location.

I tried Limoncello there for the first time, and loved the delicate lemon flavor. When we got home, I started working out how to make it. I found that the secret is in the simple syrup used to sweeten the vodka, enhancing it by adding the juice from the lemons whose peels infuse the vodka.

The bonus is, if you have extra lemon simple syrup, add it to tea, still or sparkling water for another refreshing beverage.

Enjoy!

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Capri-Style Limoncello
Copyright 2009 by Lauren Bradford
(aka The Food Puzzler)
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Prep time: 10 minutes
Processing time: 3 days (mostly inactive)
Makes: Approximately 200 Liters

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INGREDIENTS:
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1-1.75 liter bottle vodka of choice
3 Lemons
1 cup sugar of choice
Water as needed

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STEPS:
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1. Wash the lemons and carefully remove the peel so that you don’t get any of the white pith, as that will make the Limoncello bitter tasting.

2. Place the peel into the bottle of vodka and cap it, then place the vodka in your fridge for 3 days.

3. Next, juice the three lemons and strain out the seeds, and place in a measuring cup. Top off the measuring cup with water so it equals one full cup of liquid.

For the next step, have a bowl of ice water next to you at the stove and be sure that you have at least 30 minutes where you can focus on the stove. Sugar, when heated, can boil over quickly.

4. Place the liquid in a medium-size pan with the one cup of sugar, and warm on medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Then, reduce heat to low and continue warming until the mixture thickens slightly into a lemon simple syrup, about 20 minutes. Then, cool completely and store in an airtight container in your fridge.

5. After the 3 days have passed, strain the vodka into a pitcher with room for the lemon simple syrup as well. Start by adding half of the simple syrup to the pitcher, stir and taste. Continue adding the lemon simple syrup to the pitcher until the taste is to your preference.

Serve chilled; portion size is one ounce.

To store, keep refrigerated in a closed container.

Refreshing Healthy Mint Smoothie

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Watching the snow piling up outside, relieved we were home safe as visibility went down to 0 with hours of snow to go, I started thinking about ways to make treats with what I had home. Loving mint, especially at this time of year, I’ve been curious about healthy spins on green shakes and smoothies.

I made my own almond milk, because going anywhere near a market once the snow levels were announced was pretty much impossible, but any milk of choice certainly will do! If you make your own nut milk, and are using a 55-year-old blender like me, a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth will allow you to separate the nut ‘meats’ from the ‘milk.’ They can be reserved for mixing into hot breakfast cereals. 🙂

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Refreshing Healthy Mint Smoothie
Copyright 2017 by Lauren Bradford
(aka The Food Puzzler)
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Prep time: Overnight (soaking the almonds)
Processing time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4

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INGREDIENTS:
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1 10-oz bag almonds, soaked in water overnight
1 mint tea bag
1 oz mint extract
10 leaves fresh, washed mint
2 cups fresh, washed baby spinach
Water as needed

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STEPS:
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1. In a container with a tight lid, place the almonds and enough water to cover, and put the container in the fridge overnight. Make a strong cup of mint tea and leave the bag in the cup while it cools, then remove the bag, cover and store the cooled tea in the fridge overnight.

2. The next day, drain and rinse the almonds, add to your blender with fresh water to cover and blend until as smooth as possible. Strain the ‘milk’ into a separate container and reserve any remaining ‘nut meats.’

3. Add the extract, mint leaves, tea, spinach and ‘milk’ into the blender and purée, adding cold water if necessary.

4. Taste and adjust to your desired level of mintiness.

Enjoy!

Vegan Pad Thai-Inspired Noodles

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‘I think I’m going to need a bigger bowl.’

Somewhere along the halfway cooking point, I realized I’d overdone things as usual, and what I intended as a little rainy day snack had turned into a meal fit for a party. With two types of noodles, 4 cups of chopped and shredded vegetables, multiple entries from the bean family, as well as peanuts two ways, I suspect this dish will supply me with lunch and dinner for a week, with plenty packed in the freezer for later.

This dish starts as Vegan, but easily lends itself to the cooked proteins and scrambled eggs associated with more traditional Pad Thai dishes. You can make this completely gluten-free using Tamari in place of the Soy Sauce. I love the peanuts in this dish, but for those with nut allergies, toasted and ground sunflower or sesame seeds bring a similar richness to the dish.

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Vegan Pad Thai-Inspired Noodles
Copyright 2016 by Lauren Bradford
(aka The Food Puzzler)
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Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves: 15-20 people

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INGREDIENTS:
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15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

5 scallions, each rinsed, ends trimmed and cut into three pieces

1 cup diced butternut squash

1 package edamame noodles (I used Explore Cuisine’s organic brand, available at Market Basket in the pasta aisle)

1 package rice noodles

4 cups water

2 tbsp PB powder plus 1 tbsp peanut butter

3-5 cloves of garlic depending on size, sliced

3 tbsp peanuts plus more for garnish

Zest and juice of 1 lime

1 package tofu of choice, water pressed out and chopped into small dice

1 package (about 3 cups) shredded carrots

1 each zucchini and summer squash, spiralized

1 package (about 4 cups) bean sprouts
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 tablespoons Sesame oil
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tbsp garlic powder (half for the pasta water)
1 tbsp salt (half for the pasta water)

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STEPS:
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1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

2. Rinse and drain the chickpeas and scallions, trim and cut the scallions into three pieces each, and place on one sheet pan.

3. If you purchase pre-cut butternut squash, cut into even pieces if needed and place on the other sheet pan. If you have a whole squash, cut in half width-wise and then length-wise, and remove the seeds. Peel one of the quarter pieces and dice into relatively even size. The pieces and quarters will cook fine for these purposes all together on one sheet pan.

4. Coat the items on both pans in 1 tablespoon of the oil, enough just to coat, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon each of the salt and garlic powder.

5. Roast at 350 degrees, with the chickpeas and scallions being done in about 15 minutes and the squash in about 25 minutes. Reserve on the sheet pans, you can even keep them both in the oven with the oven off.

6. While these items roast, in a large pot bring the water to a boil with 1 tablespoon each of the salt and garlic powder. Cook the edamame noodles to package directions but don’t drain, just remove the noodles, place on your serving platter and toss with 1 teaspoon each of the soy sauce and sesame oil to prevent sticking.

7. Then, place 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, and the two tablespoons of peanut butter powder in the pasta water and stir to combine. Place the rice noodles in this mixture, pressing gently to submerge the noodles. Cover, turn off the heat, and let the noodles sit.

8. After about 5 minutes, the noodles should be done and most of the pasta liquid will be absorbed. Test the noodles for doneness, then stir to combine everything fully. Transfer the rice noodles and all remaining liquid (it will be absorbed by the still-warm pasta) to the platter with the edamame noodles and combine.

9. Scrape down the sides of this same large pan, so the rice starch doesn’t burn, and now place in it the remaining 3 tablespoons of the sesame oil, garlic, lime zest, and peanuts, remaining salt and the red pepper flakes. Cook on a medium-low heat until the garlic is softened, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

10. Add the tofu cubes, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and the lime juice, and continue cooking until the tofu is warmed through. Then add the zucchini, summer squash, carrots and sprouts, and with two large spoons begin tossing to cook them evenly, about 10 minutes.

11. Add in the squash, chickpeas and scallions, and toss to combine.

12. Remove from the heat and spoon onto the platter. Top with additional roasted peanuts, if desired.

Chunky Roasted Peppers and Eggplant

Teaching budgeting/food cost in a high school Culinary Arts program taught *me* many things as well. First and foremost, how to get creative on the spot, modifying lessons to reach each group of students and their particular needs for the day. As any teacher can tell you, the same bunch of helpful students you worked with in the morning, two hours later might not even be willing to make themselves a favorite batch of cookies.

Once I had worked out the lesson I mentioned in this previous post:

https://thefoodpuzzler.com/2016/02/02/adventures-in-teaching-round-one-nutrition-and-food-cost/

I’d have moments when the students embraced the idea that almost any savory dish was allowable (budget-depending of course). They would come up with all sorts of favorite family dishes. One of these is a relish called Ajvar. Ajvar is a Serbian relish* which one of my students associated with some of her favorite family gatherings. Avjar is primarily composed of roasted red peppers, garlic and spices, but eggplant is also often added.

This dish is based on the same ingredients, but instead of making a traditional Ajvar, I diced the ingredients before roasting, and added red onion, tomato and Poblano peppers.

How I have used this (when my Mom doesn’t eat half the batch with a spoon before it’s done cooling 😉):

~Tossed with cooked quinoa, rice, or small pasta like orzo and orecchiette.
~As a topping for cooked chicken, eggs, or tuna.
~As a base for flatbread or pizza, or on top of French bread slices.

But very often, I just follow Mom’s lead and grab a spoon…Enjoy!

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Chunky Roasted Peppers and Eggplant
Copyright 2016 by Lauren Bradford
(aka The Food Puzzler)
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Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
Makes: 5 cups

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INGREDIENTS:
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1 large eggplant
2 Roma tomatoes
1 red pepper
2 Poblano peppers
1 large red onion
2 tbsp Olive oil
1 tablespoon Garlic powder
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Dried Basil
1/2 teaspoon Red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

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STEPS:
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1. Dice all vegetables into small and even pieces, keeping the peels on but removing seeds and stems.

2. Toss in olive oil and spices, and place on a parchment-lined* sheet pan.

3. Roast at 350 degrees until softened and lightly charred, about 25 minutes. About halfway through the cook time, remove the sheet pan carefully (let the wall of steam escape before reaching in) and stir the vegetables around once.

4. After the vegetables have finished cooking, remove carefully (there’ll still be steam) and let cool slightly before serving (if serving warm) or cool completely.

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NOTES:
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* http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6430271&sc=emaf

* The parchment is optional, it just makes for easier cleaning and food release.

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week (if they last that long). You can freeze portions, but once thawed it should be puréed to improve the texture and look of the veggies, and warmed to release some of the excess water you’ll get from the freezing/thawing process.

Berry-Brie Apple Quaesadillas

While I was cooking away yesterday, my Mom asked me if I could make us one of her favorite treats. This Quaesadilla is a lovely combination of sweet and savory, with the tart apple, berries and creamy cheese. They make a terrific breakfast or light lunch. Add a little chocolate and it makes a delicious dessert!

You can use pretty much any type of tortilla, baking apple, cheese and berries. I’ve used just about any and all berries, cheddar, even sautéed onions when I had them available. In this one, I use a flax-oat wrap, Brie, Granny Smith apple, and a combination of sweet red raspberries and warmed cranberries.

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Berry-Apple Brie Quaesadillas
Copyright 2016 by Lauren Bradford (aka The Food Puzzler)
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Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10-15 minutes
Makes: 4

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INGREDIENTS:
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8 medium-size tortillas

1 Granny Smith apple, sliced thin

1/4 cup red raspberries

1/4 cup cranberries, warmed in microwave in covered dish until softened

1 wedge Brie, sliced thin (mold on or off is OK)

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STEPS:
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1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two sheet pans with parchment. Alternatively, lightly coat a frying pan with olive oil.

2. Tortilla assembly: distribute the ingredients equally among four of the tortillas, then top with the other four tortillas.

3. Bake for 10 minutes until the cheese is melty.  Or, if pan frying, cook on medium heat for 2 minutes each side.

4. Cut into quarters and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Cranberry Apple Cauldrons

I just love the combination of apples, cranberries and cinnamon, all warm and toasty. The baking process mellows the tart cranberries and brings a perfect pick-me-up to the cinnamony warm apple.

It’s like having an apple pie without any of the work! For each baking apple* of choice, slice the top 1/4 inch and remove the stem but reserve the top. Scoop out all but 1/4 inch around and at the bottom of the apple. (I snacked on what I scooped out at the time, but it would work easily slipped in an overnight oats dish.)

Add 8-10 cranberries to each apple, place the apple top back on. I happened to have cinnamon sticks and star anise on hand, so I added a star anise to each apple and placed a cinnamon stick through each top and into the apple. Sprinkling 1/8 teaspoon of either ground cinnamon, apple/pumpkin pie spice or a Chai blend, on the cranberries before placing the tops back on, would all work nicely too!

Place in a parchment-lined baking dish, lightly cover the top with parchment as well, and bake at 350 degrees until the apples soften, about 45 minutes.

Serve as-is, top with ice cream or yogurt of choice, or toasted nuts.

Enjoy!

*http://www.thekitchn.com/the-best-apples-for-cooking-ingredient-intelligence-208455

Cauliflower Crackers with Seed Blend, Walnuts and Oats


I woke up Friday morning and started feeling the urge to cook all weekend. Because of course I’m the most exciting person around. 😉 I bought a bunch of vegetables, including a gorgeous head of cauliflower, to cut and roast ‘cauliflower steaks.’
The question is, what’s a good way to use the lots of cauliflower that breaks apart while slicing? There’s plenty of options, as pulsed cauliflower is a great substitute for couscous or rice. There are also inspiring twists, like this ‘bun’ recipe from My New Roots:

Cauliflower Buns & Bagels

I’ve made them, and they hold together wonderfully. I was also in the mood to make a seed-based bread, like this one from Oh She Glows:

Super Power Chia Bread (gluten-free)

I started wondering if I could find a way to make a cauliflower-based cracker applying similar principles. Chia and flax are terrific binding alternatives to egg (although that would work nicely too) and the ingredients together blended well with the seasoning for a wonderful flavor. 

I have tried this with veggies, hummus,  and cheese, and of course on their own, and ended up freezing the rest to stop myself from eating them all today! 

Hope you enjoy!

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Cauliflower Crackers with Seed Blend, Walnuts and Oats

Copyright 2016 by Lauren Bradford (aka The Food Puzzler)

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Prep time: 10 minutes

Rest time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20-25 minutes

Makes: 30 pieces

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INGREDIENTS:

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1 small or 1/2 head large cauliflower, cut into pieces
1/4 cup walnuts

2 tablespoon oats

1 tablespoon each garlic and chili powder 

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon each chia, flax and hemp seeds (if preferred, 3 tablespoon one of the three)

4-5 shakes from Tabasco (optional)

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STEPS:

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1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, place the walnuts and a few pieces of cauliflower. Pulse until they’re the size of rice or couscous. Place in a large bowl and continue pulsing the cauliflower in small batches.

2. Once complete, add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix completely. 

3. Let rest for 10 minutes, then spread out to 1/4-inch thickness on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the mixture is golden and springs very slightly to the touch. 

5. Cut into one inch-by-one inch pieces and let cool completely. 

6. Store in fridge for up to one week or the freezer for up to three months.

Bright Summery Veggie Cucumber Bites


These bites are an old friend, my first and favorite way of enjoying salad fixings.

Take an English cucumber and cut into 2-inch slices. Scoop out some but not all of the seeds and center, so you create cups. 

Fill with diced veggies of choice, either sautéed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, or cold and tossed with a light, citrusy vinaigrette.

Toasty Quesadilla with Charred Corn, Sautéed Romaine and Veggies


It’s a hot and rainy Summer day, and I had all sorts of wonderful things for making a salad. But I’ve been eating cold salads for days now, and wanted to find a way to have the same ingredients a bit warmer.

Romaine is a cookable green that can act as a substitute for Escarole, either sautéed or added to a soup. There’s been an abundance of gorgeous Romaine at the local market, and I went a little overboard this weekend, so I started thinking of what I could make that would be a substantial meal while still being Summery.

This quesadilla enjoys the flavors of colorful carrots, peppers and corn, but any veggies and grains you prefer work great as well! 
Toasty Quesadilla with Charred Corn, Sautéed Romaine and Veggies
Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

4-5 cloves garlic, sliced or minced

1 small onion, rough chop

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 stalk celery, rough chop

1/2 bell pepper of choice, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

2 teaspoons dried herbs, such as chives or dill

1 medium head Romaine lettuce, thoroughly soaked and rinsed, then chopped

1 cup corn kernels (off the cob or frozen work best)

2 tortillas of choice

1/2 cup grated melty cheese, such as pepper jack, Monterey, cheddar, or mozzarella
Equipment:

One small frying pan

One large frying pan
Steps:

1. Place your corn in the small frying pan with no oil, and toast on medium heat until charred. Set aside in a bowl.

2. In this same pan, now add the carrot and pepper and also toast on medium heat until charred. Add to the bowl with the corn.

3. In the large frying pan, place the oil, garlic, onion, salt and spices. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until the garlic has gotten fragrant, at least 5 minutes.

4. Add the celery and chopped Romaine and cook until the celery is a bright green and the Romaine has wilted. Add to the bowl, and stir to combine.

5. Place one tortilla into the smaller frying pan, add 1/4 cup cheese and 1/2 cup of the veggie mixture to one half of the tortilla, and fold tortilla over.

6. Toast for one minute or until golden on each side of the tortilla.

7. Repeat with the second tortilla. 

Any leftover veggies are perfect served with chicken, beans and rice, or tofu.