October 10, 2013

Pull up a stool...lemon basics!

If you've taken a minute to "Meet Euna Mae" (here) then you know that I learned a lot from her by pulling up a stool and watching her cook, asking questions, observing, and gaining an understanding of kitchen basics. So I invite you to pull up a stool...and let's talk lemons!

Next to salt and pepper, I truly believe that lemon is the next most common ingredient I use for flavor in my kitchen! 

If you saw the recipe for Euna Mae's Lemon Glazed Cake (here), you saw that fresh lemon juice is used in the cake batter itself and on top of the cake in the glaze. There is absolutely no substitute for fresh lemon juice. And I don't want to hurt the feelings of the bottled lemon juice people, but it ain't the same. If I learned anything of kitchen-long value from Euna Mae, it was to always use fresh lemon. Always.

So here are few lemon basics that I hope will make you more savvy in your own kitchen! Because good solid fundamentals are what make good cooks great! 

Choose lemons that are smaller and heavier for their size. Smaller lemons tend to be juicier than the big ones. Also be sure they don't have cuts or bruises on the flesh. Pick the pretty ones!

Store lemons in the refrigerator in the crisper drawer OR store them loosely on a refrigerator shelf inside the bag they came in. Refrigerating lemons gives them longer life!

Bring lemons to room temperature when you plan to use them. Room temperature lemons will juice better than cold lemons.

Using a microplane zester, grate the rind - the bright yellow outer layer of the lemon - and use in your recipe or freeze in little baggies for adding to future sweet breads, pastas, marinades and more! Be swift but gentle when you zest so you're sure not to grate down into the white layer which is the bitter pith. Zest a whole lemon before you cut it or you'll have quite a time trying to zest a half-lemon. I put lemon zest in probably 75% of the dishes/desserts I make!!

Roll the room-temperature lemon on the counter, apply pressure with your palm.  This step loosens all the little lemon juice sacs inside so you get the most juice!  Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the lemon into the cupped hand of your other hand, letting the juice fall between your (clean) fingers, but letting your hands catch the seeds. OR you can buy one of these dreamy citrus squeezies and let it do the work for you.  I juice so many lemons to make fresh lemon bars that I finally bought the tool because my old hands couldn't take it anymore.  It has been a life-changer, y'all.  On average, there are 2-3 tablespoons of juice per lemon...in case you're wondering.

Whole lemons do not freeze well.  However, you can juice the lemon and freeze the juice in jars or even ice cube trays! Mmmmmm, imagine a few fresh lemon ice cubes dropped down inside sweet tea with mint?! See, always thinking....

There are at least 753 uses for leftover lemon rinds, including cleaning products, hair care, deodorizers, infused sugars and oils and more! And we'll talk about those in detail on another day!  I personally love to cut up my rinds into smaller pieces and run them down my disposal to cut the grime and give off a fresh citrus scent. It's quick and it's resourceful!