There, I had a lovely drink of champagne and blood orange bitters, which I had always assumed was really fancy and unobtainable at home. But there it was, in the dead of winter, in my own hometown, the bottle of blood orange bitters, for under $5, so I bought it. At home I read the lable, and there was my drink, which we mixed up that afternoon for company. It’s a lovely bubbly drink with the exotic, not too sweet flavor of blood orange. The sugar cube gives it just a touch of sweetness. I made it with Prosecco, of course, but any bubbly will do, I’m sure.
This is the kind of thing I love: something that feels very fancy, that you think you can never have at home, because the ingredients are too expensive or exotic. But in fact, a lovely version can be made with a decent bottle of your favorite, inexpensive Prosecco (many are available for $10-12) and a serendipitous find at BevMo, which is not exactly a bastion of exclusive, foody culture. It’s more like the work horse of a home that likes their cocktails on a budget.
It’s a lovely drink, it’s seasonal and delicious, and one of those things that can just make you happy. The color is glorious and the flavor just a bit suprising. It’s probably what we’ll be toasting each other with this weekend. And for winter weekends to come. At least until the bitters run out.
Blood Orange Prosecco Cocktail
Blood orange bitters
Sliced blood oranges for garnish (optional)
For each drink, place a sugar cube in the bottom of the glass and cover with bitters. Pour chilled prosecco on top. Garnish with blood orange.
This is not what you should do when you plan to take the kids to a fine dining establishment: Make them drive 4 1/2 hours. Not feed them lunch. Check into a hotel and unpack while they run a little wild. Drive to Said Fine Dining establishment without a reservation, nor even any clear idea about where you will be eating that night, even though all four of you are very hungry for a Real Meal and tired and already more than a little road-fatigued.
Nevertheless, after checking-in and unpacking and putting on clean and reasonably nice clothes, the family (ok, Kory and I) decided to drive to the Hotel del Coronado for dinner. It was early–around 5 pm–and the beautiful old hotel was nearby, and we knew that there would be several food options once we arrived, but we really didn’t plan ahead aside from frantically scanning menus on my new iPhone on the 20 minute drive over. For some reason, my husband and I became fixated on eating at 1500 Ocean because the menu looked so nice and we were tired and just wanted a good meal. I know this is not what most normal, sane parents think when confronting dinner at the end of a long day of traveling: gee, let’s take our kids to the fanciest place we can find, so we grown ups can have a really good meal! And we don’t, usually. But, we were so far into vacation mode, and the kids had on cute-enough, clean clothes, so we did.
The Coranado is reputedly haunted, which story the kids loved, so we explored the gorgeous old lobby a bit while Kory got us a reservation, and then we descended in a magnificently ornate elevator to the restaurant. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a table outside, but we had a really lovely, cozy booth, replete with comfortable and chic back cushions, which Finn and Ella found very fancy.
One of the things which sold us on 1500 Ocean was the excellent kids menu, printed separately on a beautiful card, which made for a really nice souvenir (I’ve been collecting menus for years, but this is Ella’s first one):
There was beautiful bread :
with homemade butter sprinkled with (I think ) black maldon sea salt:
So the kids knew right away that this was someplace Special and Different and Fancy. They’re both at that great age where aesthetics are surprising and gratifying: they happily recognize and appreciate when things are “So beautiful!”
But one of the great things about this elegant place is that they do welcome well-behaved children who are ready to eat. The kids received their drinks in plastic cups with lids, which was funny and anomalous, but also nice.
Things picked up with the amuse bouche of smoked eel with heirloom tomato. While Finn wouldn’t touch it, Ella gobbled down hers, and his, and would have eaten ours, too, if given the chance.
and a shrimp cocktail that doesn’t seem to be on the menu anymore. It was very good, but had heat, so we kept it for ourselves.
During all this, the special occasion Shirley Temples and Ocean Cava cocktails of brut champagne, blood orange bitters, and rock salt kept us all very, very happy.
The kids both asked for mac-n-cheese, but we convinced them to get one mac-n-cheese and one steak with asparagus and mashed potatoes, which turned out to be a good thing. The server very kindly split the entrees onto 2 plates, so both got some of each.
Finn devoured the macaroni, which was more like a very rich, creamy deliciously fragrant pasta, and Ella, the carnivore, turned her nose up at pasta, but couldn’t get enough of the filet, which was delicious and perfectly cooked, even though the low light and the iPhone picture makes it look like a lump of charcoal. In real life, it was very pink and very tender.
and Kory had Kurabota Pork Tenderloin, which was more defined and pretty than this picture allows, and also delicious:
We splurged on dessert, too, including the Almond Brown Butter Cake, Cookies and cream, and Chocolate Chipotle cake, which had a lot of residual heat (but was really fun and excellent) and Ella bravely tried.
Through it all, the kids were completely terrific, in spite of their exhaustion. (That pillow was very tempting for Finn once the macaroni-fontina coma began to set in.) I’m certain they wouldn’t have lasted through the tasting menu (which Kory wanted and I vetoed immediately), but their manners, if not impeccable, were certainly very, very good, and they understood exactly what was expected of them in a restaurant. They tried new foods, and (Ella at least) liked almost all of it. They saw food in shapes and patterns they had never thought possible, which is always a fun aesthetic lesson. I think the fact that they understand basic restaurant etiquette, combined with the general Fanciness of the place was the formula that worked for us in spite of everything that could have conspired to make the meal a disaster. We did have to walk Finn outside during one break in courses, but to some extent that defeated the purpose because at a fine dining establishment, they won’t serve your next course until you are seated and ready. But again, both Finn and Ella sort of liked learning that fact, and were pretty amused by the ceremony of it all.
After, we wandered the hotel and its courtyard:
Made sand angels:
and watched the Navy Seals practice night landings on the beach until it got dark:
But the real icing on the cake was that in our wandering, on our way back into the hotel, we saw Hayao Miyazaki, sitting right there, in 1500 Ocean, just as we had (ok, maybe not just as we had) with half a dozen others, around an elegant firepit eating dinner in an elegant all white suit. Reader, it was like seeing Walt Disney. Only better. We told Ella exactly who he was, and her eyes opened wide because she knows and loves several of the Studio Ghibli films. We gawked as much as we politely could, then we spirited the kids away, back to our hotel, and put them safely, well-sated, to bed.
Ever since we’ve had a lemon tree, and more lemons than we knew what to do with, I’ve been making limoncello–a lemon liqueur made from steeping the zest of fresh lemons in grain alcohol, then mixed with simple syrup and more alcohol. It hails originally from Sorrento in Southern Italy. It’s strong and fragrant and a gorgeous bright yellow. Served ice cold in warm weather, it’s just about one of the best things you’ll ever drink.
When we bought our house, it came with an excellent old orange tree, so orangecello was added to my spring brewing. ThenI discovered crema di limoncello and crema di orangecello (in which sweetened milk is added to the steeping zest; think: creamsicle for adults) and my house in spring began to look a bit like a small artisinal distillery. The word spread.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I like parties of any kinds, and that we live in an Eichler, which is pretty much designed for entertaining. So it was natural that last year, when lemons were in full season, I held a brewing party for my girlfriends, who also like a good party, all the more if it can provide them with delicious hooch for the year–which also happens to make really excellent gifts for Christmas if you can manage to keep it in the house that long. So, what was our family tradition became a communal event, and because of when it takes place, it really does feel like we’re welcoming spring and looking straight into the mouth of summer There are so many of us now, that the brewing has taken on a life of it’s own. My kids know that the recipe will be passed on to them when they’re (much) older, the husbands and siblings and grandparents look forward to the fresh batches, which we all drink at holidays and family dinners or just whenever. There’s more than one story of a batch mysteriously “disappearing” after a relative’s visit. And for now Ella and Finn know that limoncello season means lots of fresh lemonade and orange juice for them, and one of my Italian friends got her kids in on the zesting action in her home. Even Finley, this year, when he saw me zesting oranges instead of lemons wondered, “You making limoncello with oranges? Yum!”
For the party, I supplied the recipe and know how, as many oranges as my friends could pick off my tree, the last of my previous year’s limoncello for tasting, some prosecco for mixing and drinking straight, and my friends brought their lemons and alcohol and a dish to share and we zested and juice and ate and drank all afternoon.
It’s an excellent party: easy, fun, productive. This year my friends branched out: some started a batch of crema, some added vanilla beans (which I always do to my cremas and meyer lemon batches), they use different vodkas, etc. There’s basically a recipe for every family, which is how it should be.
I set up one zesting station, with 6 zesters, where everyone took turns zesting into their large glass jars. At another station, set up with 3 juicers (2 were mine, one brought by a friend), we juiced the zested citrus and brought the juice home in freezer ziplock bags, which I provided. I freeze my lemon juice in ice cube trays, then the kids can mix it with simple syrup and bubbly (or plain) water all summer long for fresh lemonade. Call it the recessionary party, but we’ve been doing it this way for years.
I also laminate the recipe cards, with the recipe on one side and serving suggestions on the other, which is what I’ve reproduced below. It’s not too late for you to brew. Especially with friends.
20 organic lemons
2 bottles (750 ml) 100-proof vodka or Everclear
4 cups sugar
5 cups water
Note: Don’t be afraid of the Everclear if you can find it. It’s stronger than regular vodka and has less flavor of it’s own. This means it extracts more of the flavor and essential oils from the zest and imparts less of its own taste to the finished product. It also doesn’t get slushy in the freezer. Organic, unsprayed fruit is essential. You don’t want to be drinking chemicals.
Step One: Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any residue; pat the lemons dry. In a large glass jar (1-gallon jar), add one bottle of vodka.
Carefully zest the lemons with a zester or vegetable peeler so there is no white pith on the peel. Add the lemon zest to the vodka as it is zested. NOTE: Use only the outer part of the rind. The pith, the white part underneath the rind, is too bitter and would spoil your limoncello.
Cover the jar and let sit at room temperature for at least 10 days and up to 40 days in a cool dark place. The longer it rests, the better the taste will be. (You can shake or stir a little every few days, if you like.) As the limoncello sits, the vodka will slowly take on the flavor and rich yellow color of the lemon zest. When the color is no longer deepening and the rinds look whitish, it is definitely done.
Step Two:In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water; cook until dissolved, or until thickened if you want a thicker, sweeter drink, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
Let the syrup cool, then add it to the Limoncello mixture from StepOne. Add the additional bottle of vodka. Allow to rest for another 10 to 40 days.
Step Three:After the rest period, strain the liquid through a cheese cloth or coffee filter and bottle: discard the lemon zest. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.
·To original recipe, add zest of 1 lime
·To original recipe, made with either lemons or oranges or meyer lemons, add one whole, split vanilla bean during steeping
·Substitute lemon zest with zest from Meyer lemons or 10 oranges or blood oranges
·Substitute lemon zest with dry, unwashed organic basil leaves to make basilcello (wipe dust off leaves with dry cloth)
·Use zest of 30 lemons & 5 vanilla beans (insides scraped, beans and seeds used) for initial steeping
·Experiment with vodkas and the amount of sugar in the simple syrup, you can make a mellower or sweeter or less sweet liquer
·Try Crema di Limoncello/Orangecello, a creamy version of this drink: steep 2 vanilla beans in 750 ml. warm milk, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Cool completely. Substitute this milk mixture for the simple syrup. Or, steep the zest right with the vanilla beans, then add the milk/sugar mixture. Don’t use the second bottle of alcohol.Many other variations for this recipe for this are available online. When I make my crema, I just split, scrape and steep one vanilla bean with the first bottle of alcohol and zest. I love the flecks of vanilla in my drink.
& Serving Suggestions
·Drink ice cold
·Drink ice cold with ice chips
·Drink ice cold mixed with mineral water or prosecco or any other sparkling beverage
·Drizzle over shaved ice
·Drizzle over ice cream
·Drizzle over pound cake or fresh summer berries
·Mix with prosecco and vanilla or lemon gelato to make a Venetian shake
·Mix with iced tea
·Label & “brand” to give as gifts
My batches thus far for this year: lemon, lemon for crema, meyer lemon w/vanilla bean, double batch of orange w/vanilla bean for crema di orangecello:
(update 12:14 PM/PST, because I forgot about the zest….)
Some things are born not so much of necessity but of the inspiration from what you have on hand. I roast a lot on winter weekends: chicken, pot roasts, braised pork butt. I discovered a few years ago that to my very great surprise, I was good at it, and with a little thought and prep time, one could turn out a really great meal that made the house smell terrific and also feed a small army or provide great leftovers for a rushed night later in the week.
Last weekend, I had a chicken to roast, but wanted to do something new. One of the standards, of course, is to stuff the cavity with lemon, then rub the skin with salt and an herb butter, often thyme or rosemary. I’ll often finish with paprika, because it adds great color, and a squeeze of lemon juice for extra browning. Good, right? But something was restless in my culinary subconscious, and while we have abundant lemons on our tree right now, it was our bountiful orange tree, right outside our door that called to me. I decided, I would substitute citrus and herb and mix it up (exciting, huh?) and make an Orange Oregano Roast Chicken, because that’s what we had growing in our garden.
It was easily and by far the best chicken I’ve ever made. Even I was surprised by the result of my experiment. And while roast chicken is not fancy, it can be a perfect and really delicious family meal. And if you want to do a themed, seasonal, citrus meal, you can try the blood orange tart posted over on Smitten Kitchen.
If you do eat chicken, please make sure to buy a chicken that is organic, free range, and comes from a farm where you know exactly what the conditions are for the birds. If you’re not careful about how you source your chicken, you really do run the risk of supporting a farm that does unspeakable things to birds.
Here’s what I did for a 4.25 lb chicken:
I had Kory bring me 2 large oranges while I cut a few long sprigs of oregano from our bush.
I cut one orange into 8 pieces. I zested the other.
I cut 1/2 a red onion into 4 small pieces (the better to wedge them into the chicken cavity).
I generously salted the chicken’s cavity.
I stuffed the cavity with several pieces of orange and the red onion, and several long sprigs of oregano.
I carefully slipped my hand under the skin of the chicken and separated the skin from the meat with my hand. This is not hard to do, and is a technique we often use with turky. I rubbed several tablespoons of softened butter (yes, it’s a lot of butter), all over the breast, thigh, & leg meat, and then rubbed the orange zest right over that into the butter.
I sprinkled dried oregano (also from our yard) all over the outside of the chicken.
I salted, generously, the skin (on the outside).
I squeezed a generous portion of orange juice from the fresh orange over the skin.
I trussed the chicken. For me, this is essential. I’m sort of neurotic about trussing & it gives me great satisfaction.
I placed around the chicken lots of quartered red and white onions, potatoes, and carrots. These I salted, drizzled with olive oil, and few more squeezes of orange juice.
I roasted at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, then turned the heat down to 375 and roasted for about an hour longer, until the juice from the cavity ran clear.
The chicken was done a little before the vegetables, so I removed it and let them roast a little longer.
Then I poured off the drippings, separated off the fat, and deglazed the roasting pan with a little bit of white wine, added back the drippings, about a 1/4 cup of water, and swirled in about a tablespoon of butter and, presto, a fast, delicious pan sauce.
While you’re carving, if the kids are clamoring treat them (or yourself if there aren’t kids in your house), to the tender nugget of meat on the bottom of the chicken. You can just pop it out of the small cavity with your thumb. The two “oysters” are the best part of the bird, and it was great when we had only one kid top treat and I got to eat the second oyster. Oh well. Motherhood is about sacrifice, right?
But everyone loved the chicken proper, and it made a great pot pie later in the week. Which is a post for another day.