Tag Archives: Lemon

Candied citrus peels

Just under the wire before Christmas, here’s an edible gift idea: candied citrus peels. Start them tonight, and they’ll be ready by Saturday.

I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s probably my greatest kitchen love-hate relationship. On the one hand, candied citrus peels are incredibly delicious, a real show-offy gift, and a great way to use up food scraps. On the other hand, making them is labor-intensive. Not difficult or complicated–just a lot of f’n work.

That said, this is the kind of elaborate kitchen project that even a rank newbie can take on. All you need is a sharp knife, a pot or two, a lot of water and some sugar, and a place to set your peels to dry. Beyond that, what matters isn’t skill so much–it’s patience.

Below is a long, elaborate explanation of how I do this. The short version is: peel yourself some citrus and cut the peels into pieces. Blanch the peels in boiling water a few times. Simmer the peels in simple syrup for about an hour. Lay the peels out to dry for a day or two. Coat the dried peels in sugar or chocolate. Done.

I usually save citrus peels in the freezer and make a big batch of candy every few months. Every time, about 24 hours into the process, I wonder why I got myself into this. Then I take a nibble, and remember: oh, yeah. It’s because candied citrus peels are amazing.

candied grapefruit peel sugared

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Pink lady cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

Some time over the past few years, I became the kind of person who likes making layer cakes. I still don’t quite understand it. Considering how scattered and slapdash I am in other parts of my life, it seems odd that I’d derive so much satisfaction from stacking cakes on top of each other and painting them with frosting. But I do. I really do.

I think a big part of it is the love. A layer cake might be the purest edible expression of love I know of. There’s absolutely no reason to make one except out of love for (yourself and) others. Layer cakes are celebration food, the thing you make when it’s time to shower love on someone. Even if you make a layer cake to celebrate yourself, you’ll still end up feeding it to people you love. It’s a project–a messy, multi-hour project–the kind of thing you wouldn’t undertake unless you really cared about the person or people whom you’re making it for. But if you like baking, making a layer cake is also a kind of therapy, a way of showing yourself some love while preparing to spread it to others.

This cake is the perfect example. I made it for Audrey’s birthday party, partly at her request and partly of my own initiative. She wanted Smitten Kitchen’s pink lady cake; I know how much she loves lemon, so I decided to give the frosting a lemon kick. It was the perfect cake for Audrey, who loves berries and lemon and gets impatient with chocolate. As it turned out, the strawberry flavor in the cake was incredibly subtle, so that the puckery lemon frosting stole the show. When she sliced into the cake, the layers revealed themselves to be a delicate purple-pink, the perfect color for a non-girly-girl who likes wearing pink.

But there was also some self-care in it for me. The planning of the cake was elaborate and specific, but creating it was a lazy breeze, a perfect excuse to spend the day indoors. I rolled out of bed in the morning, slapped the batter together and threw it in the oven, then went back to bed and did crossword puzzles until the layers were baked. While they cooled, I showered, ate brunch, and watched a nature documentary. I had a little bit of strawberry puree left over from making the cake layers, so I mixed myself a berryoska and sipped it while I frosted the cake. And then I brought it to the party, covered it in sprinkles, and presented it with great affection to the birthday girl.

pink lady cake slices

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Steamed artichokes with lemon vinaigrette

It’s spring, and this girl’s fancy is turning to thoughts of artichokes.

I’m a sucker for a good steamed artichoke. I love the meditativeness of it, pulling off the leaves one by one and running them between my teeth to extract the meat. I love how the leaves get tenderer and more delicate the farther along I go, how more and more of the heart-meat clings to each leaf as I approach the center. I love pulling the last few tissue-paper leaves from the top of the heart and nibbling off as much of the filmy bottoms as I can. I love scraping the choke away with a spoon, revealing the soft cupola of the heart inside. I love breaking the heart into pieces with my fingers and eating it greedily, all sweet-and-bitter and always gone too soon.

For my money, you could just plunk a whole artichoke in a pot with a thin film of water on the bottom and steam it till it’s tender. I’ve done that for years. But it’s not much of a recipe, and for you, blog readers, I wanted something special. So for this post, I sliced off the tops, half-steamed the artichokes upside down, then turned them over and drizzled a little extra virgin olive oil over the top before steaming them the rest of the way. (If I’d wanted to get really fancy, I could have trimmed the thorny tips off of each individual leaf; but that’s far too much fuss for me, since the thorns soften anyway in the steam.) It turned out surprisingly lovely; the oil sank into the crevices and formed a light film on the leaves.

You could certainly eat your artichoke naked–I often do–but the leaves are perfect for dipping, and stand up to a variety of sauces. I’ve most often had artichokes with a mayonnaise sauce, or lemon and butter, which are both very nice but not really my thing. What I love, and make most often, is a simple lemon vinaigrette. (I make it so often, in fact, that I’ve written about it here before.) It’s not much on paper: good olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and just enough honey to tame and emulsify the two. Whisk it all together, and you have a smooth and tangy dressing, perfect for anointing any number of grilled or steamed vegetables. As a dip for artichoke leaves, it’s hands-down my favorite.

This is perhaps my ideal springtime lunch: a warm steamed artichoke, a custard cup of lemon vinaigrette, a loaf of crusty whole-grain bread, and some good cheese. It really doesn’t get much better.

artichoke with lemon vinaigrette

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Lemon elderflower sorbet

My friend Anthony’s parents have a very prolific lemon tree. The last time he went to visit them, he came home with ten pounds of lemons, and promptly foisted about nine pounds off on me. I was grateful, to be sure, but it was a bit of a scramble to figure out how to use them all up before they went bad. I made a big batch of lemon curd, and a pair of lemon pies (which I neglected to photograph, whoops). That still left me with a hefty armful of lemons, slowly slumping and wrinkling and growing uglier by the day. Enter the ice cream machine.

I could have just made a simple lemon sorbet. But I wanted something jazzier, so I added a shot of elderflower liqueur. Partly, it was a practical choice: a splash of alcohol in a fruit sorbet is a quick-and-tipsy way to keep it from freezing too hard. But I was also curious how the flavors of lemon and elderflower would mingle together in a chilly base.

As it turns out, they get along just fine. The sorbet turned out really lovely, shimmering yellow with tiny saffron-flecks of zest throughout. The liqueur hummed quietly, subtly, in the background, amplifying the intense floral fruitiness of the lemon itself. It was the kind of thing I could easily imagine as a palate cleanser at a snooty dinner party, or as a bracing after-dinner treat on a sticky summer evening.

Even with the booze, this sorbet is best eaten within a few hours. The longer it sits in the freezer, the icier and harder it’ll get. I ended up leaving my sorbet for two weeks before eating it, which meant I ended up with a crackly crystallized lump instead of a lush scoopable mass. I had to chip it into glasses like a granita. The flavor was still terrific, but it didn’t have the soft spoon-sliding texture I had hoped for. If you’re going to keep the sorbet longer than a day, make sure to take it out of the freezer well before serving it, to give it time to soften and relax.

Oh, and if you don’t think a bowl and a spoon is enough fanfare, try slipping a spoonful of sorbet into a flute of sparkling wine. I know.

lemon elderflower sorbet

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Turkish red lentil soup

My parents recently took a trip to Istanbul. They fell in love with the city–the architecture, the sweeping water views, the riotous mingling of cultures in the streets. And they absolutely raved about the food. One of the first things my mother did when they got back was find a recipe for one of their favorite dishes they had in Turkey: lentil soup.

Normally, lentil soup is hearty, rich, winter-warming fare. The Turkish version is a cool-summer-night kind of soup: light, brothy, lemony and soft. The base here is red lentils, which are smaller and more delicate than most other kinds. When cooked, they fall apart almost completely–a disaster for salads, but ideal for soups. And unlike garden-variety green or brown lentils, red lentils turn a sunny golden color when cooked, turning a murky bottomless stew into something bright and almost refreshing.

The original recipe my mom uses is about as simple as it gets: dump all ingredients into a soup pot and simmer until cooked. The result is a simple, lighter-than-air soup, but I found I wanted a little more depth and complexity. I added back in the step of sweating the vegetables, and also toasted the spices and lentils lightly in the oil to jar the flavors awake. I’m on a huge mint kick lately, so I stirred in some fresh mint at the end, and finished it with a drizzle of olive oil. My tweaks may not be totally traditional–I’ve never been to Turkey, so I can’t vouch–but I think they make for a more flavorful soup.

My favorite element of this is that it’s a little bit interactive–the lemon doesn’t get added until the soup is on the table. Put out a platter of lemon wedges, and everyone squeezes a wedge or two into their bowl of soup. Not only does the juice stay fresh and pungent, but each person can decide how much acidity they want. It makes a pot of soup feel like a family affair.

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Lemon olive oil cake with honey buttercream

So.  Lemon curd straight from the spoon is nice.  But you know what’s even better?  Putting it in a cake.

Oh, I’m sorry.  Make that a lemon olive oil cake filled with lemon curd and frosted with honey buttercream.

I know, right?

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Lemon curd

Hello, lemon curd.  Fresh, familiar, decadent, springy.  I like you very much.

I’m still relatively new to making custards, but curd is a cakewalk even for a newbie like me.  It’s fruit juice or puree, sugar, butter, eggs, cooked gently until thick and glossy.  This is the lemon inside a lemon danish; the sunny yellow spread on top of a scone; the gooey-soft filling between the layers of a cake.

This lemon curd is rich and luxe, and a little goes a long way.  It looks adorable in a glass jar, and goes down smoothly enough to be downright dangerous.

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