August 14, 2008

Lemons, those quintessential slices of summer—we love them! We celebrate them in our desserts and perch their perfect crescents on the rim of our iced teas. Many of us made our first entrepreneurial venture into the world of commerce at the end of our driveway selling lemonade for a quarter a glass. Lemons definitely call to mind good things to eat and refreshing summer drinks. Their uses, however, are not limited to culinary endeavors.

Lemons can play a role in decorating, cleaning, even flower arranging.

Buying & Storing Lemons

The freshest lemons will generally have lustrous, firm skin–although some thinner-skinned varieties may be slightly wrinkled. Choose a lemon that is heavy in your hand. It will be juicier.

If you are using the fruit in a couple of days, store your lemons in a basket at room temperature. Otherwise, store in the refrigerator for up to four weeks.

Using Lemons

Use lemons in your decorating. Their beautiful shape and color, and clean fragrance, make them a natural choice to enhance your décor. Piled high in a basket, lemons make a beautiful centerpiece. Added to the vase of a large floral arrangement, lemons anchor the stems of the flowers and provide visual interest through the glass.

Lemons have uses in the laundry room, as well. Adding a quarter cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle keeps your whites bright. You can also use lemons to remove stains from natural fabrics, such as cotton and linen. Squeeze lemon juice directly on the stain, then place the garment in the sun for an hour or so. Repeat if necessary. Launder as usual.

In the kitchen, lemons do more than enhance your cuisine. If your garbage disposal needs a bit of freshening up, grind up some lemon peels to dispel odors. You can also make use of a lemon that you have squeezed for juice. Just add a bit of coarse salt and polish your copper pans until they gleam.

With their fruit acids, lemons are also great for your skin. After cleansing your face, finish with a lemon rinse: Just fill a basin with warm water, add a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, then rinse your face. The lemon will counterbalance the alkalinity of soap, and its astringent, antiseptic, and exfoliating qualities will result in a smoother, clearer complexion.

Cooking with Lemons

When cooking with lemons, remember to use non-reactive cookware. Grate the peel for zest before juicing, as it is easier to zest a whole fruit.

When juicing a lemon, roll it under your palm on the countertop first. You will get more juice.

For a new taste, try Meyer lemons. A sweeter hybrid, they originated in China, possibly as a cross between mandarins and lemons. They have a complex flavor with a hint of lime. You can use them in any recipe that calls for lemons, although they are not a good choice for lemon zest since their skin does not contain enough of the aromatic oils. Easy to find these days as a result of their increasing popularity, Meyers are now cultivated in California, Texas, and Florida. Look for them at the market—they are rounder and smaller than the more familiar varieties and have a thinner skin.

Like salt, the flavor of lemon enhances other flavors. It marries with the flavors of fruits, liquor, herbs, spices, meats, fish, poultry, and pastry, adding contrast and balance. There are many ways to use lemons in your cooking. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on your fish as it grills. Add lemon slices to your chicken as it roasts. Try your hand at making lemon vinaigrette for a picnic salad. Or maybe create a marvelous lemon dessert.  

Lemon Chocolate Cheesecake

Serves 6 to 8

1 package shortbread cookies
3 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Coat the inside of a medium springform pan with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Chop the cookies in a food processor with a metal blade, pulsing until they are crumbs. Combine the crumbs with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter until the crumbs stick together. Press the mixture into the sides and bottom of the springform pan. Store in the freezer until needed.

24 ounces cream cheese
2 cups granulated sugar
3 teaspoons minced lemon zest
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
½ cup fresh lemon juice

Mix together the cream cheese, sugar and lemon zest. Beat on low for 3 minutes. Add the flour, cornstarch, vanilla extract, and salt, then mix on medium for 2 minutes. Keep the sides scraped down.

Add 2 eggs and mix on low for 2 minutes, then add the remaining 4 eggs and mix on medium for 2 more minutes. Add the lemon juice and beat on low for 1 minute. Pour the mixture into the prepared crust, and place the springform pan on a baking sheet on the center shelf of the pre-heated oven. Bake for one hour, then reduce heat to 225 degrees and cook for another hour. Finally, reduce heat to 200 degrees and cook for another hour or until the temperature is 175 degrees in the center of the cheesecake. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheet for 1 hour.

Refrigerate for 8 hours in springform pan.

Chocolate Ganache Topping:
1 quarter (4 ounces) sweet butter
1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces chocolate chips

Heat the butter & cream together until just boiling. Pour over chocolate chips, let soak for 1 minute and then stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate starts to melt. Finish with a whisk and beat until the chocolate is nice and smooth and shiny.

Remove the cheesecake from the springform pan and top with the chocolate mixture. Refrigerate to firm the chocolate topping. To serve, cut into triangles and serve with a fruit garnish.

Recipes courtesy of Judith McQueen, Judith McQueen Entertaining.



Lemon Mousse

Serves 6 to 8

1 envelope powdered gelatin
½ cup lemon juice
1¾ cups heavy cream
7 tablespoons sugar
fresh raspberries and candied
lemon zest for garnish

In a double boiler, dissolve gelatin in the lemon juice. Whip the cream and sugar together with a beater until medium peaks are formed, then gently fold the lemon juice/gelatin mixture into the whipped cream. Pour into desired mold and refrigerate until set (if serving immediately), or place mold in freezer overnight. To serve, remove from mold, thaw, garnish with fresh raspberries and candied lemon zest, and serve cold.

Recipe courtesy of Shannon Harper H-G’s Reserve, 571 4th Street East, Ketchum.

Lemon Martini

Serves 36

2 ounces roasted lemon juice
1½ ounces good quality vodka
Squeeze of simple syrup

Cover the rim of the glass with Demerara sugar. Add the roasted lemon juice from the recipe above (before adding water and sugar to make the lemonade), vodka, and simple syrup, then shake the ingredients and serve straight up!
Please note: the Roasted Lemon Juice freezes well!

Recipes courtesy of Judith McQueen of Judith McQueen Entertaining.

Roasted Lemonade

Serves 12

Serve alone as lemonade or as part of a Martini bar ensemble.

14 lemons
½ vanilla bean
½ cup, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
¾ cup granulated sugar (add more to taste)
4-6 cups water
Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll the lemons under the palm of your hand to loosen the juice from the skin. Cut the lemons in half and place in a roasting pan. Sprinkle 2/3 cup of sugar over the lemons and add enough water to almost cover the lemons. Add the vanilla bean to the water.

Roast for about 1 hour, until the edges of the lemons start to caramelize. Remove and cool to room temperature. Squeeze the lemons through a strainer into the bowl of a food processor. Scrape the vanilla bean into the water and pour the liquid, again through the strainer, into the same bowl. Roughly seed and cut up 2 lemons and add them to the food processor. Process until smooth. To use as martini mix, stop here and skip to recipe below. To make lemonade, strain into a pitcher, add the lemon juice, then add sugar to taste along with 4+ cups of water to make desired strength of lemonade. Serve chilled over ice.

Recipes courtesy of Judith McQueen of Judith McQueen Entertaining.


Lemon Noodles with Rock Shrimp and Cream

Serves 6

Noodle dough:
1 pound (about 3 cups) high-gluten flour
6 eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of lemon zest
Pinch of kosher salt
a few drops of water, if necessary

Mix all ingredients together into a ball and allow to rest at room temperature at least 1 hour before rolling into noodles. Using a pasta machine, roll out thinly and cut into fettuccine-size noodles. Cook in boiling water for 5 minutes, then serve immediately with pasta sauce.

4 cups heavy cream
½ pound rock shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 pinches of coarsely crushed black pepper
2 pinches chopped parsley
¼ cup lemon juice
Pinch of kosher salt

Place all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to boil and add cooked lemon noodles. Do not allow cream to reduce (evaporate) too much or sauce will be too thick and pudding-like. Serve piping hot.

Recipe courtesy of Scott Mason The Ketchum Grill, East Avenue & 5th Street, Ketchum.

This article appears in the Summer 2006 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.