February 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
If you live in The 650, then you know that citrus does very well here. Lemons, limes, grapefruits, all kinds of oranges… you see them in front yards, back yards, side yards, and along driveways throughout my neighborhood. The high point for the citrus harvest is usually December through February. However, with the “weird weather” (as my father calls it) we’ve had lately, my little back yard lemon tree has been producing non-stop since November. You know what that means: I’m up to my ass in lemons. To date I’ve probably harvested about 40 pounds of fruit.
In past years I’ve experimented with a variety of lemon-based recipes, here are just a few of my favorites:
However, with all of the travelling I’ve been doing, I haven’t had time for much cooking or food preservation projects, so I’ve been limited to juicing and zesting. Upside is that I can freeze both (juice and zest) for use later. I have a Cambro container in my freezer, filled with lemon juice cubes that I can just grab whenever I need lemon juice on the fly. A quick turn in the microwave on “Melt,” et voila!
As for the zest, I make little parchment-paper packets of approximately a teaspoon of zest, wrap them in plastic wrap, then store in a freezer bag. Again, when I need zest, all I have to do is reach into the freezer. The guts that are left over after juicing and zesting are destined for the compost bin, but it would be nice if I had another option for using the whole fruit.
I’m always on the lookout for “root-to-stem” recipes when it comes to produce, and recently I came across a keeper for Whole Lemon Bars from one of my favorite pastry chef/cookbook authors, David Lebovitz. Lebovitz earned his chops at Chez Panisse and other Bay Area restaurants before relocating to France to focus on writing cookbooks. I’ve been a fan since purchasing his first two books — Room for Dessert and Ripe for Dessert — both of which are still favorites in my collection. His techniques are easy to follow, and the recipes just work.
I’m reluctant to use the term “genius recipe,” for anything, but I think Lebovitz has nailed it with the Whole Lemon Bars. What’s so genius? You use a whole lemon, plus some added juice, minimizing waste. Using a whole lemon results in a sweet-tart bar that is very lemony. I made a minor modification to the crust (described below), but nothing that warrants an “adapted from” version here, so just follow the link above to view the recipe on David Lebovitz’ site.
If you’re following a gluten-free diet, you can easily make the crust gluten-free by substituting a “cup-for-cup,” gluten-free flour. I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour, but feel free to use whatever works for you. I also baked the crust for 27 minutes (longer than Lebovitz’ suggestion of 25 minutes), but that might just be my oven. The result was a golden-brown, crispy crust that had the same taste and texture as the wheat-flour version.
A few additional observations and suggestions that I’d like to share:
- For same-size squares, use a ruler to measure and a long, thin-blade knife to cut. I keep a metal ruler in my kitchen for just this sort of thing.
- Store the cut bars in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature for service. Lebovitz says you can store the bars in an at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three days, but I found that they got a bit weepy on the second day (maybe my kitchen is too warm).
- You can freeze these bars without worrying about texture change. Thaw frozen bars in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature before serving.
- Too much pith will add a bitter note to the bars, so use a lemon that has moderate rind (less than 1/2″).
Have you made Whole Lemon Bars?
May 13, 2015 § 2 Comments
So, let’s say you zest 10 or 12 Meyer lemons for Organic Meyer Lemon Limoncello, leaving you with a bunch of nekkid fruit. And then? Juice them, of course. And then? Then you have about a pint of Meyer lemon juice. And then? Exactly. Now you have to come up with a way to use up that lovely, fresh lemon juice. Sure, you can dip into that pint when making salad dressings, lemonade, lemon sorbet, and so on, but what about a recipe that really lets the fresh, unique flavor of Meyer lemons shine — and makes a serious dent in the amount of lemon juice taking up space in your refrigerator?
The answer to “And then?” is Meyer lemon curd! Having luscious, creamy, tangy-sweet lemon curd on hand means that you’re halfway to quick lemon tarts, lemon bars, or a sunny topping for pound cake or scones. Sweet! (Dude!)
Lemon curd is not a jam or a sauce, it’s actually a custard (although you can thin it with juice or cream to make it saucy). Other sweet treats that are custards? Crême brulée and ice cream, for example. A custard, by definition, is a combination of eggs, milk or cream, and sugar, typically cooked either on the stovetop or in the oven. Lemon curd substitutes lemon juice for the milk or cream and gets its creamy mouthfeel from the addition of butter at the end of the cooking process.
While Meyer lemon curd seemed like a good waste-less solution to too much lemon juice and some eggs that were teetering on being too old to keep around, finding the right recipe was a bit of a problem. My go-to lemon curd recipe calls for a small pile of zest and egg yolks (not whole eggs, just yolks). Not an ideal solution because I’d end up with leftover egg whites and more nekkid lemons, which meant more juice. Hmmm, this didn’t seem to sit right with the Waste-Less Wednesday mission to reduce waste. I was trying to reduce waste, not create more.
What I needed was a lemon curd recipe that met these criteria:
- No zest required
- Whole eggs or whole eggs plus one or two yolks (Why one or two? Because you can easily use up one or two egg whites making an egg-white omelette or Pisco Sours!)
- Not too sweet
- No straining necessary
So what about that last part — no straining? No, I’m not referring to the amount of physical effort required to make the curd! Depending on how you cook the lemon curd, you can end up with some cooked egg bits in the finished curd that you’ll need to strain out if you want a completely smooth lemon curd. Temperature is the culprit here. Egg whites cook more quickly than egg yolks, so it’s key that you whisk the egg whites and yolks together thoroughly before you start cooking the curd.
Cooking technique is also a factor. Recipes that call for cooking lemon curd directly over heat (as opposed to in a double-boiler setup) — or even boiling the curd — can result in uneven or too much heat too quickly, causing the eggs in the mixture to curdle. What you need to know about cooking custards is that you want to cook them low and slow — with evenly distributed heat. That’s why custards are often cooked in or over water baths. So, really all lemon curd needs is a double-boiler setup and your undivided attention for 10-15 minutes.
Ah, where to find this unicorn of lemon curd recipes? It was a quest — through a dozen cookbooks and magazines and half a dozen online recipe sites.
Who knew there were so many different (and yet similar) lemon curd recipes in the world? After all of that research, I can’t say that I found one recipe that met my criteria for ingredients and technique together, but I had some reliable sources to draw on for inspiration in creating my own easy-to-make, rich lemon curd.
What did I learn?
- You can make a flavorful lemon curd without zest (adding zest to the mix will amp up the flavor, no doubt, but it’s not required)
- Egg yolks give the curd its vibrant yellow color and rich flavor, so use eggs with rich yolks
- Balance between sweet and tart is essential, so the amount of sugar should be less than or equal to the amount of juice in the recipe
- You can cut out the straining step by keeping the cooking temperature even and stirring the mixture continuously
Have you made lemon curd? With or without zest? Strained or not? Share your thoughts and experiences in the column below.
Recipe: Meyer Lemon Curd
Inspired by: The Culinary Institute of America and Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz
Yield: About 16 ounces
Here it is: a zest-free, no-strain, minimal-waste, creamy lemon curd with all the sweet tangy flavor of Meyer lemons. (Note that I do include an optional straining step, in case you need it.) Make sure that you can commit an uninterrupted 10-15 minutes to the cooking process. You need to stir the curd continuously during this time. Serve this luscious treat as a complement to plain baked goods, such as cakes or scones, as a topper for waffles, or with fresh berries.
What you need:
Double-boiler or 2-quart saucepan and Pyrex or stainless steel bowl that fits securely in the top of the saucepan
Kitchen towel or hot pad
Medium-sized Pyrex or stainless steel bowl
9″ x 13″ metal baking pan for ice-water bath
2 dozen ice cubes
Optional: Instant read-thermometer
Optional: Fine-mesh strainer
6 ounces freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
6 ounces fair trade organic sugar
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks, from large eggs (total weight of eggs plus yolks is about 5 ounces)
3 ounces sweet butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of salt
- Fill the saucepan with approximately 2 inches of water, cover with a lid, and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to medium-high.
You want to be sure that there’s enough water to keep the simmer going, but not so much that the insert or bowl will be immersed in water when you place it on top of the saucepan. Also, you shouldn’t see any steam coming from the saucepan. If, at any time during the cooking process, steam starts to come out of the saucepan, turn down the heat.
- Prepare the ice-water bath. Fill the baking pan with a dozen ice cubes and then add enough water to fill the pan about halfway. Place a clean, medium-sized bowl in the baking pan.
- In the other bowl or double-boiler insert, whisk the eggs until yolks and whites are well combined, adding the pinch of salt.
- Stabilize the bowl or insert by placing a rubber jar opener or folded wet kitchen towel underneath, then whisk in the juice.
Pour the juice in slowly with one hand, while whisking to combine it with the eggs using the other hand. For example, if you’re right-handed, pour the juice into the eggs with your left hand, and whisk with the right.
- Whisk the sugar into the egg and juice mixture.
Use the same technique as you did to whisk in the juice.
- Place the bowl or insert into the saucepan over the simmering water and, using the whisk, stir continuously for about 10 minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken.
For the first five minutes, nothing will happen, but keep stirring at a slow-to-medium pace. Around the 8-minute mark you’ll notice a little thickening, barely. Don’t stop stirring. You’ll want to keep the mixture moving the entire time so it cooks evenly and doesn’t have a chance to curdle. I’m not kidding. Don’t stop. Don’t step away for a minute, or you might end up with lemon scrambled eggs.
- After 10-12 minutes test for doneness and temperature. You want to cook the mixture until its thickened and an instant-read thermometer reads 175° F.
If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, try this old-school method of testing doneness: dip the back of a wooden spoon in the mixture. The curd should coat the back of the spoon. If not, keep stirring and cooking. If the spoon is coated, run your finger through the curd that sticks to the spoon. If the gap doesn’t close at all, the curd is ready to come off the heat.
- Turn off the heat, and remove the bowl or insert, placing it on a folded towel. Add half the butter cubes to the mixture and whisk until completely melted and combined. Then add the other half, again, whisking until completely combined.
As the curd cools, it will continue to thicken, so don’t worry if doesn’t seem thick enough now. However, residual heat will continue to cook the curd, so it’s important to bring the temperature down as soon as possible, which is why you want to get the curd into an ice-water bath.
- Add the remaining dozen ice cubes to the prepared ice-water bath.
- Optional: Sometimes you’ll end up with a few bits of cooked egg whites in the curd. If you want a completely smooth curd, you can strain it through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl in the ice bath. Use a rubber spatula to press the curd through the sieve.
I had a few bits of egg white in my curd, but they’re so tiny that I could have skipped the straining.
- If you skipped step 10, use a rubber spatula to scrape the curd from the double-boiler insert or bowl into the clean bowl in the ice bath.
- Cover the curd with a piece of plastic wrap so that the curd doesn’t develop a “skin.”
- Top up the water in the baking pan so that it’s equal with or slightly above the level of the curd in the bowl.
- Place the ice bath (with curd bowl) in the refrigerator and allow the curd to cool for 1-2 hours before serving.
- Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks.
April 24, 2015 § Leave a comment
Are you a kitchen experimenter or adventurous eater? I don’t mean in the Andrew Zimmern “Bizarre Foods” kind of way (although if stinky tofu or rat hearts are your thing, rock on; I’ll hold off, thanks). No, I’m talking about a willingness to try food combinations or flavors that are just a touch out of your comfort zone. Maybe that means ordering something you wouldn’t usually get from your favorite restaurant, testing out foods in à la Waste-Less Wednesday style, or that WTF moment when you throw some random ingredients together in a pan and see what happens. Thinking differently about ingredients or food combinations or preparation techniques broadens our food options considerably, and the discovery process is just plain fun — especially when you find something you want to share.
Which leads me to an inspiring reader comment about preserved lemons and feta cheese:
I’m just circling back to let you know how we used our preserved lemons. The gremolata was delicious — it fed a whole family very happily. But the biggest discovery was what happened when we combined the lemons with feta. We’ve been buying our feta from Rose International Market on Castro St. in Mountain View for 20+ years….The other day I lightly mixed a wedge of preserved lemon with a little bit of leftover Bulgarian feta and served it with crackers and lavash (also from Rose Market). The resulting spread was just heavenly. I didn’t think it was possible to improve Bulgarian feta, but I guess you never know!
Wheee! Gotta love that! “Two great tastes that taste great together.” And how did this happen? Simply putting some leftovers together for a family dinner. (By the way, thanks for sharing, Monica!) What’s the key here? Starting with ingredients that you enjoy, and saying “what if…?” Sometimes you come up with a winner, sometimes you don’t. If the combination isn’t as delicious and craveable as you’d hoped, shrug it off and try something else. (Not-so-big secret: Most professional chefs don’t nail a new recipe the first time. It’s an ongoing process of testing and tweaking over time.)
After I read Monica’s comment, I started thinking about the combination of salty, sweet-tart preserved lemons with a creamy cheese, soft cheese. Mmmm. I’ve been crushing hard on some Petaluma-made fresh ricotta lately (note to self: stop eating it out of the container). Sheep’s milk ricotta would be a nice, less salty stand-in for the feta — although cow’s milk ricotta would add a buttery richness that could play off the tartness of the lemons. I’ll save you the suspense: both versions are lick-the-bowl good. (And don’t get me wrong, the feta/lemon combo is creamy-sweet-tart mouthbomb, but if you can’t get your hands on creamy Bulgarian or French feta, fresh ricotta is a stellar partner.)
As for the lemons, you can use 7-day or 30-day preserved lemons for this recipe, although the flavors will be a bit different. The 7-day lemons give you a brighter, sweet-tart, lemon flavor, while the 30-day lemons are mellower, but have the added flavor dimension provided by the spices preserved with the lemons. Either way, if you’ve been waiting for a reason to make 7-Day or 30-Day preserved lemons, this is it!
Recipe: Fresh Ricotta and Preserved Lemon Spread
Yield: About 7 ounces
Fresh ricotta is essential here, so try to buy a locally made version — or get adventurous and make your own ricotta at home. Homemade preserved lemons are best, but store-bought will work in a pinch. A good, peppery olive oil and some crunchy, toasted pistachios are the finishing touches to this spread, adding flavor and texture. Serve with crisp crackers, lavash, or on a sturdy piece of toast.
6 ounces fresh ricotta
1½ – 2 wedges preserved lemon, to taste
1 tablespoon toasted pistachio pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Place the ricotta in a small mixing bowl.
- Finely chop the lemon wedges — skins and flesh — and add them to the ricotta, mixing gently with a spoon or rubber spatula to combine.
Start by chopping 1½ wedges and adding those pieces to the ricotta. Give it a taste. If you prefer more lemon, chop the remaining ½ wedge and add it to the mixture. Return any unused lemon pieces or wedges to the storage container.
- Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
You probably won’t need much salt, as the lemons themselves provide a good amount of salt from the preservation process, but a little accent of a delicate salt, such pyramid or Himalayan pink, can balance the flavor if your mixture is too tart.
- Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and top with toasted nuts.
- Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days.
February 25, 2015 § 8 Comments
Last December, during one of my it’s-the-holidays-so-I’m-indulging excursions to Whole Foods, I spied containers of preserved lemons. Nothin’ fancy, just small, whole Eureka lemons, juice, salt, and citric acid in plastic deli containers. I’ll admit it was a total impulse buy. Preserved lemons weren’t even on my radar, but eh, it was the holidays, after all. (You see how that kind of thinking can get a person into trouble.)
Turns out that preserved lemons are my new favorite condiment. For the rest of December and through the early part of January, I was finding ways to work preserved lemons into every savory dish I made: baked fish with herbs, roasted vegetables, and pastas. My favorite combo? Soba noodles tossed in olive oil and this twist on gremolata: roasted garlic, sautéed preserved lemon, minced parsley, and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper. Topped with freshly grated cheese, of course.
If you read my post about Lemonpalooza a couple of weeks ago, let me tell you that the abundance of over-the-fence Meyers and backyard Eurekas continues! After some hemming and hawing about it, I finally decided it was time to make my own preserved lemons. I’m still baby-stepping my way into preserving foods. If you’re in the same boat, preserved lemons are a good place to start. There’s no cooking involved, although it’s a good idea to sterilize the jars in which you’ll store the lemons while they do their thing for 30 days. Oh, yeah, that’s the kicker: you have to wait 30 days.
There are a few variations of preserved lemon recipes floating around the interwebs, but Paula Wolfert’s version seems to be the mother recipe; you can find it on Epicurious and Leite’s Culinaria. The Leite’s Culinaria version is more concise, while the Epicurious version provides more detail and includes notes from Wolfert. Read both to get the full picture. To paraphrase one comment I read: “if you’ve got salt and lemons, you can make preserved lemons.” Yep, it’s that easy.
I decided to go with the spices-added version from Epicurious. Because I have 24-ounce jars and plenty of lemons, I scaled up the recipe to make 1.5 times the amount (just multiply every ingredient by 1.5). I don’t have permission to post the recipe here, but I can give you the peep-show version of what I did.
First up: the mise en place. Make sure you’ve sterilized your jar(s) and assembled your ingredients. Tip: Sharpen your knife before starting. It’s a lot easier to slice through citrus peels with a sharp knife.
I used the muddler from my home bar to press the salt-stuffed lemons into the canning jar and force out some of the juice.
After I layered all of the lemons and spices into the jar, using the muddler to press down each layer, I added lemon juice to cover everything. (Remember those 10 Meyer lemons I zested to make limoncello? I used the naked lemons for the juice to cover my preserved lemons.) Et voila!
Preserved lemons should be stored in a warm spot, so I went up — storing the jar in the wasted space on top of the upper cabinets in my kitchen. (Ah, see — another way I’m reducing waste in the kitchen!)
There’s also a recipe for a seven-day version of Paula Wolfert’s preserved lemons on Epicurious. Not as highly rated, but easy-peasy to make. Hey, I had more lemons, juice, and another jar… not to mention all of that above-cabinet storage space, so I knocked that one out, too. It will be interesting to compare the quickie version with the long, slow version.
Mise en place: no spices in this one, just lemons, salt, and juice.
Another difference? The prep is super quick. When making the seven-day version, you cut the lemons into slices and toss them with salt. In the 30-day version, you cut the lemons just enough to stuff them with salt.
Next week I’ll have the quickie version ready for taste-testing. You’ll be able to check out the results on 650Food’s Facebook page! Have you made preserved lemons? What are your tips or favorite recipes using this flavorful condiment?
February 6, 2015 § 7 Comments
Due to technical difficulties, this week’s Waste-Less Wednesday post is appearing today. Hey, now you have some waste-less projects for the weekend. Carry on.
It’s that time of year again: I’m up to my ass in lemons. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a wee bit, but between the Eurekas from my backyard and the Meyers from my neighbor’s, it’s definitely lemonpalooza around here. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Fresh backyard citrus (front yard and side yard, too!) is both a joy and a benefit of living in the 650.
What continues to surprise me is the resilience of citrus trees here — despite our crazy weather (forecast for today: earthquake with a side of rain). The lemon tree in my yard produces fist-sized fruit year after year, regardless of drought, bugs, frost, or heat waves. I typically don’t fertilize or water the tree, and it seems thrive simply by getting what it needs from the environment. This baby is hardy! Same story with the Meyer lemon bush that grows along the fence I share with my neighbor. (FYI, over-the-fence rules also apply to Meyer lemons. Lucky me!)
So right now I’ve got about 10 pounds of Eurekas and Meyers stashed in cold storage, with more coming. The Meyers don’t hold up as long and need to be used before they get too soft. The Eurekas will last longer in cold storage, but I have to get them off the tree before the skins get too thick, otherwise they’re only good for zest and not for juice. There have been years when I’ve slacked and ended up with huge lemons that are mostly pith. (Need a quick primer on the differences between Eurekas and Meyers? Check out this article.)
Recently 7×7 Magazine published a Meyer lemon limoncello recipe, which inspired me to try my hand at this lovely Italian liqueur again. (Limoncello, if you haven’t had the pleasure, is a lemon-infused neutral spirit, sweetened with simple syrup.) I say again, because the last recipe I attempted called for high-proof vodka and waaaay too much simple syrup. Let’s just say that it didn’t end well, despite my persistent attempts at taste testing.
This time around I’m tweaking the recipe to include my new favorite vodka and easing up on the simple syrup. Going into research-geek mode, I tracked down a dozen recipes from reputable sources, all of them the best limoncello recipe evah! Yup, that’s what they said…all of them. And all of them different. Some require high-proof grain alcohol (Everclear), while others say 100-proof vodka will do the trick. Some recommend peeling the lemons in strips, while others insist on zesting them. Gizmondo has a cool technique that involves suspending whole lemons over the alcohol for infusion.
My takeaway? There’s no right way to make limoncello — so why not choose the best ingredients and try the simplest technique first? I decided to go with zesting 10 Meyer lemons, dumping that zest into a 1 liter glass jar, then adding 750 ml of 80-proof vodka. Voila! Close up the jar and hide it away in the back of a lower kitchen cupboard. (Why lower? Eh, heat rises. I want to keep the infusion cool.)
Sometime around March 5 or so, I’ll strain out the zest, make up a batch of 1:1 simple syrup, and add that syrup to the infused vodka in half-cup increments until I get a sweet-tart, lemony, boozy drink that I’ll want to enjoy all summer. If all goes well, I’ll post the final recipe. Easy peasy, but what about the rest of the lemons?
Well, there is the small matter of 10 naked Meyer lemons to deal with. They’re back in cold storage in a ziplock bag until I can juice them this weekend. And then what? I still have a stash of Eurekas, too. Fortunately, lemons are versatile, and there are plenty of easy techniques and recipes for enjoying lemony goodness. On my to-do list:
- Combine lemon juice with olive oil, salt and pepper for a simple salad dressing
- Spin up a small batch of lemon sorbet (substitute lemon juice for orange in this recipe and vodka for Cointreau)
- Make a round of lemon cocktails; how about a Pisco Sour or this Tequila Sage Smash from Imbibe Magazine
- Indulge in Meyer Lemon White Chocolate Scones (substitute lemon for orange and white chocolate for dark in this Sunday Morning Scones recipe).
And what about whole, preserved lemons? Yes, please! Perfect in pastas and on top of baked fish. Looks like I’ve got my rainy-day projects for this weekend. What do you do with a surplus of lemons?