Monday, August 25, 2008

A Zest For Lemons

A Zest for Lemons

As a native New Yorker, I never thought I’d be in a situation where I’d be harvesting Myer Lemons and figuring out what on earth to do with them. But, I’m in California now, with a good friend who has 2 magnificent trees resplendent with Myer Lemons in her backyard in sunny Oakland.

This friend does not have a culinary bone in her body but what she lacks in interest, she makes up for in enthusiasm; I wanted to come up with some easy and fun ideas for my friend so she could take advantage of her harvest and create a new dimension to gift giving and entertaining.

Here are some simple ideas for a delicious twist on lemons-

Vodka Lemonaide- No explanation required, this is the best summer cocktail around, served in a martini glass with a lemon twist.and a sugar rim on the glass.
Lemonade- Kind of obvious I know but for many, an afterthought! Squeeze the juice of about 12 lemons in a pitcher. Fill the pitcher with water to take the liquid up to the top of the vessel. Add about ¼ cup to ½ cup of sugar depending on your taste and you’re set!
Lemon Pasta- This satiny lemon sauce is beyond it and does not require advanced cooking. Mix together the juice of 1 meyer lemon with a couple egg yolks and about ½ cup cream and toss into ½ lb. egg pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Sumptuous.
Preserved Lemons- The perfect complement to roast chicken or pasta and a great hostess gift. Take your lemons, cut in half. Squeeze their juice into a beautiful jar, and put the lemons in with skin side facing out after coating inside of lemon with kosher salt.. Throw in spices if you want but I prefer pure lemons. Let the jars sit for 1+ months and you’re good to go. If you’re giving as a gift, tie some ribbon or raffia around the neck of the jar and you have a beautiful kitchen gift for a friend.
Deep Fried Vegetable basket with Myer Lemons- decadent spin on tempura veggies. Deep fry coated lemons, asaparagus, artichokes, green beans and you have a fun tempura basket.
Lemon Bars- The summer classic with buttery, shortbread crust
Limoncello- This is so simple to make and delicious. Pour a bottle of vodka or grain alcohol into a bowl. Peel about 7 or 8 lemons and put the lemon skins in the bowl of alcohol. (you can save the actual lemons in the fridge for some future cooking project). After a week or 2, strain the alcohol and discard the lemon skins. You will now have a yellow liquid! Mix with simple syrup and bottle and you have created Limoncello.
Meyer Lemon Marmalade- This is one of the first projects I did with my friend and it yields a very sweet jam.
Lemon Wreath- Okay, this is not a food, but if you have an over abundance of lemons, try buying a round, wire wreath form at a craft store. Get some wire and work boughs of lemons on the branches with green leaves around the wreath form to create a stunning lemon wreath. These are beautiful but don’t have a long life. Still if you’re looking for something new to do, they are lovely while they last.

Friday, August 8, 2008


The Worst Meal Ever-
I know you’re wondering what restaurant I’m going to mention here- right? Nope, have to say I am responsible for what amounts to the Worst Meal EVER…this week…2 nights ago…yuck. I always wonder how that can happen. I mean you’re humming along in the kitchen, pretty experienced, confident, at ease, fearless. You follow the recipe- one that has worked just fine in the past mind you. And everything goes south.

It all started innocently enough when I was at Trader Joes and bought a packet of Rice Noodles to make Pad Thai. I knew I had chicken, egg, green onion & fish sauce at home so all I really needed were a couple limes, peanuts & bean sprouts and I was pretty well set. I was so pleased with myself- thinking outside the box and all, trying an atypical meal for dinner for once! Usually I’m lucky if I can whip up some sliced tomatoes and soup with bread or something equally boring.

Don’t get me wrong, I am passionate about cooking- but cooking as in the entertaining type of cooking. I know this about myself so recently I’ve been trying to get out of the rut and try new recipes for everyday living. And I have. In the past 2 weeks, I’ve made the Barefoot Contessa’s Orzo with vegetables and goat cheese (but I used blue). It was outstanding. I’ve made my sister in-law Marci’s bread recipe and her orange, ginger pork tenderloin (see my blog “Phenomenal Cooking” for the recipe). Her recipes are phenomenal, can’t get enough good… I’ve made chicken baked with prosciutto and parmesan, a roasted pear salad with mixed greens with a honey/shallot vinaigrette dressing and gorgonzola blue cheese. You see, I’ve really been trying with pretty good results! Which is why, it was quite a shock to make the WORST MEAL EVER. I mean, I was on a winning streak with one good recipe, one good meal after the other. Surely I thought, the Pad Thai is a slam dunk, I’ve made it before several times and it was great, authentic, better than restaurants good.

That was then; this is now…it started with over-cooking the noodles. Not only did I over-cook them, the bigger mistake was also cooking the noodles a good hour before I was actually ready for them. They hardened and stuck in the colander while I prepped the vegetables, cooked the chicken, scrambled and cooked the eggs. When I turned around to get the noodles I found the problematic lump of starch; but being resourceful, I forged ahead! Knowing or I should say assuming I’m a good cook I decided to improvise to fix the problem. I dumped the lump into the sauté pan, warmed it up with some garlic and olive oil… then because I’m so clever I thought it would be smart to pour in a little white wine to give it some liquid and nuanced flavor. Well, let’s just say that was not enough liquid to solve the problem. So then I added chicken broth while I tossed the rest of the ingredients into the pan. It seemed to go from bad to worse because by the time the bean sprouts got in, the green onions were a faint yellow, a vague memory of their crisp, greenness gone. Desperately I continued- adding the sugar and fish sauce. I think this is the first time in all my years of cooking Thai that I couldn’t get enough fish sauce in there to make things taste right. In all, by the time I was done, I was committed. I tried it, yes. AND IT WAS THE WORST MEAL EVER! Not quite clear on what happened here but let’s just say the rest went into the trash and I ate bologna for lunch the next day.