When you envision the end of summer, sitting on your back porch or lounging on a friend’s veranda, you most likely envision a tall glass of lemonade in your hand as you chat about the latest gossip. However, if you are like me, the summer has been full of “not-so-bad” and mediocre lemonades that just didn’t hit the spot. This is a slight travesty for me because I LOVE lemon. Thus, I now seek to enlighten the world as to how to pick lemons, how to spice up your lemonade, limoncello style, and then teach you the joy of lemons in cooking (you don’t just have to drink them, you know?).
So let’s start with how to pick a good lemon. This is a hands-on task. When you go to the store for the sole purpose of picking the perfect lemons, as I know you will, you are going to want to handle the lemons with care. Pick up each lemon one at a time and feel if it has a good weight to it. You are going to want to choose lemons that are weighty but which have a nice give to them when you gently squeeze them in your hand. Now, this is not a lemon smushing contest, so do not go all Hulk on them in the middle of the produce aisle.
The reason you squeeze them is that you are looking for a lemon that does not have a thick skin, because the thicker the skin the less juice you will be able to get out of it. Furthermore, when you are looking at lemons, it is alright to buy ones that have a slight green color to them. However, you are going to want to avoid lemons that have brown spots or are browning because this is an indication of rot on the inside of the fruit.
Once you have your citrusy goodness picked out, we can now explore the wonders of limoncello. Limoncello is lemon liqueur which is associated with and mainly produced in Southern Italy. This drink is traditionally served chilled as an after-dinner digestif. If you are not familiar with what a digestif is, it is just like its name sounds: something taken to aid digestion after a meal. Now, that definition does not do this drink justice. Limoncello is a glorious beverage to make for a party or just to have around the house.
This drink is stunningly simple to make and will impress your friends and family. All you need to do is combine 1/2 cup lemon zest with 4 cups vodka, cover, and let stand for two weeks. Once the lemon and vodka have undergone their two weeks in isolation, strain the mixture and add a simple syrup. The syrup can be made by combining 3 cups water and 1-1/2 cups sugar.
A little tip when picking the vodka that you are going to use: the higher the proof, the more lemon flavor your finished brew will have.
Dress Up Your Greens
Since you now have your after dinner drink figured out, let’s work our way back to the beginning. A great little trick I’ve learned when making a salad more than just a salad is to mix your own salad dressing. One of my favorite dressings to make is Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing. (I can’t take credit for this recipe — I found it at food.com.)
Lemon and Olive oil Dressing
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- juice of 1 or 2 whole lemons squeezed (about 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Grind the minced garlic with the sea salt and black pepper. Then place in a tupperware container and add the lemon juice and the olive oil. Shake well and toss over salad. Add parmesan and call it a day.
The Main Lemony Attraction
Now, let’s talk main courses. I have two great recipes for you which are fun, easy, and great for entertaining. The first I found at allrecipes.com. If you have not ventured onto this website, that is something you need rectify right now with this recipe for Shrimp Lemon Pepper Linguini. This is the best linguini you will make all year.
Just a few notes for this recipe to save you some time. You are going to want to use real linguini; do not substitute spaghetti, because this sauce works best with a wide noodle. Another thing to watch out for is the amount of sauce you make. The original recipe makes a good amount of sauce if you like it sparse; however, if you are a fan of sauce you can try increasing the ingredients in the sauce recipe by half. This made the perfect amount of sauce for me. Grilled chicken can be used in place of the shrimp if you aren’t a fan of the shrimpy flavor. Remember with all of these recipes that I give to you that the goal is for you to make it your own. Try it and then perfect it to your tastes.
The second recipe I would like to pass on to you is Lemon Chicken Piccata.
I really only have one tip for this recipe: Do not — and I mean do not — wash the pan or make the sauce in a separate pan from the pan that you browned the chicken in. Your sauce will not thicken if you use a different pan, because it needs the flour from the chicken. Also, you will change the flavor of the sauce if it does not have the chicken grease in the pan.
Lemons Make for Happy Endings
Okay, why don’t we end this marvelous recipe roundup with everyone’s favorite part of the meal: dessert! So, the best lemon cupcake recipe I have ever found comes from my favorite online baking show. When I saw Rosanna, the host, making these cupcakes from scratch, I knew I had to try them. I am SO glad I did.
I only changed a few things with this recipe; here’s my version.
Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes
- 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks unsalted) butter, softened
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2-1/4 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 3/4 cup cream cheese, softened
Combine the butter and 1-1/4 cups of the sugar in the large bowl and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs and 3/4 cup of the lemon juice and beat until well combined, scraping down the bowl once or twice as necessary. Mix in the flour, baking powder, salt, and 2 teaspoons of the lemon zest.
In another bowl, mash together the cream cheese, the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, the remaining 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and the remaining 2 teaspoons lemon zest.
If you are going to make your own frosting, like I did, make the filling in one bowl and then in another bowl follow the same instructions to make a second batch of filling as your frosting.
Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the batter into each cupcake liner. Place 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture on top of each portion of batter. Then cover the cheese with some of the remaining batter. Bake cupcakes at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Now that you have an arsenal of lemon recipes you have no excuse not to try new and exciting things for your last summer shindig. Trust me, your lemon cupcakes and limoncello will be talked about and coveted until next summer. Now go volunteer to bring dessert to your next dinner party.
Photo credits: Chiot’s Run, dana robinson, Michael W. May, and Steph Laing.