Lemon essence

Happy citrus season.

When I was a ten or eleven-years-old, I wanted to start a restaurant called Lemon Essence. Everything on the menu would involve lemon. I can still picture the list of food that I would serve that I wrote in my adolescent handwriting on a small Clinique pamphlet. Lemon rice, lemon pasta, lemon chicken, lemon pie, lemon bars, lemonade. Inspired by a recent trip to Hawaii, the restaurant would be a giant screen porch illuminated by tiki torches.

I remember making my signature lemon pasta dish for my friend Meagan. I think we were at our friend Laura’s house. I sauteed garlic in butter and added flour (making a roux) and then added lots of fresh squeezed lemon juice and served the sauce over linguine. I think Meagan’s exact words when she ate it were “it hurts!” Not everyone loved the acidic sourness of the lemons as much as me.

I wonder if my fascination with lemons started when we visited our family friends, Bumps and Frannie, who lived in the hills above Berkeley. We took the train to visit them when I was four and eight-years-old. Bumps and Frannie had a lemon tree growing in their courtyard and the air around their home was citrus-scented.

I now have zero desire to open a restaurant, but I still love lemons. So does my sister who recommends this recipe for lentil soup (she doubled the amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice.) I am including two recipes for lemon-y salads. The first one comes from Bon Appetit and was one was served at a recent gathering of Wisconsin Whisk-ers. I think I ate the entire bowl. With shredded kale and brussel sprouts, it reminds of a really healthly caesar salad.

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The second recipe is for a dressing made with meyer lemon and heavy cream. I’ve written about these two ingredients before. I made this dressing for a salad for Christmas last year and it was so good.

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Kale and Brussel Sprouts Salad

From Bon Appetit

Ingredients

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
12 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1 cup finely grated Pecorino

Directions

Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 Tbsp. oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.
Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

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Meyer Lemon Cream Salad Dressing

From Sunset Magazine

Ingredients

2 tablespoons finely diced shallot
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
About 3/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
About 1/8 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions

Put shallot, lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a small bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Whisk in oil, then whisk in 1/2 tsp. more salt, 1/8 tsp. pepper, and the cream. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like. Stir before using.
Make ahead: Up to 3 days, chilled.

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Lemons + greens = love.

 

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On cabin fever and heavy cream

My tabby cat, Danger Boy, is simultaneously running around the house at high speeds and using the bathtub as a make-shift stage for his yelling practice. At press time, he is entertaining himself by sitting on the kitchen table and sticking his paw in my breakfast- a ceramic white bowl full of steel cut oats, pumpkin seeds, raisins and- Danger’s favorite- a dash of heavy cream.

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I can’t blame him- on March 2nd the light is getting longer, but winter is holding heavy here in Wisconsin.

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I’ve relied on my regular winter activities to keep myself entertained: Cross-country skiing, hot yoga, hot whiskey, entering the cats in a Bachelor gambling pool , making soup, watching Almost Famous on repeat… but things here have reached an ice-covered fevered pitch. And I’ve turned to sugar. 

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My mom recently brought me her February back issue of Bon Appétit magazine and the first page I dog-eared had a recipe for meyer lemon cream. I keep telling myself how much I love winter (I love winter I love winter I love winter) and one of the reasons why I love winter is because of floral meyer lemons*, available from November to March. My friend Martha recently gave me a bunch that she hauled back in a suitcase from her husband’s parents’ house in California (California! Lemons grow there on trees! In the winter!) So last night- after hot yoga- I whipped up a batch of meyer lemon cream, while Danger Boy pranced and yelled at my feet. I don’t always have the most success with making desserts, but this one is so simple it would be nearly impossible to mess up.

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Meyer Lemon Cream with Graham Crackers and Sea Salt

This recipe appeared in the February 2014 issue of Bon Appétit magazine

Ingredients:

3 large eggs
⅔ cup sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated Meyer or regular lemon zest
½ cup fresh Meyer or regular lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1½ cups chilled heavy cream
6 graham crackers, crumbled
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) finely grated

Directions:

Cook eggs, sugar, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened (mixture should coat a spoon), 8–10 minutes.
Transfer mixture to a blender and blend on low speed, gradually adding butter, until mixture is smooth (you’re not trying to aerate the mixture, so keep blender on low speed). Transfer lemon curd to a medium bowl, cover, and chill at least 2 hours.
Just before serving, whisk cream into lemon curd. Layer lemon cream and graham crackers in small glasses or bowls, finishing with graham crackers. Top with lemon zest and sea salt.

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Hang in there, my friends- spring is lurking out there somewhere. Until then, enjoy meyer lemons and a romp in the snow while they last.

*Freshly squeezed meyer lemon juice is also delicious in hot whiskey.

Let’s cut to the chase

There’s a band practice happening in my living room and the snow outside is calling my name, so let’s make this speedy, shall we? A million years ago- or last month- Dan and I loaded up the car with groceries and headed up north to Chetek for a long (-er than expected) Thanksgiving weekend.

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Chetek, tucked between Bloomer and Rice Lake, is where relatives on my mom’s side of the family settled their lake homes. After a long hiatus (I have early memories of picnics with my cousins on the ice, a yellow and white checked vinyl tablecloth and beds with electric blankets), I have rediscovered this place, thanks to the hospitality of Nancy and her family.

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Summers on Lake Chetek are full of waterskiing shows, treading water for hours with cans of beer and a sleeping porch that might be my favorite spot in the world to sleep, but winters there offer more quiet isolation. Dan and I read by the wood-burning stove and went for long walks looking for animal tracks in the snow.

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We did venture into town for some adventure one night and met Betty, the bartender who could not understand what we were possibly doing there after we told her we were neither hunting nor ice fishing. She cracked our bottles of Leinie’s and went about her Christmas decorating while I plugged money into the  jukebox for us and the guy in the corner at the gambling machine. No matter the time of year, here is my rule about Chetek- I always stay an extra day then I intend to. I suggest you do the same. 

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And while I have a feeling that food is the last thing in the world that you want to hear about right now, I do want to share a couple of recipes with you. Dan and I had a lot of fun cooking our vegetarian Thanksgiving meal. It was the first time that I planned and prepared one, ever.

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We had mushroom gravy, sage and onion stuffing, bread from Madison Sourdough Company and a crazy delicious kale salad which I will tell you about now. No matter how much you have eaten in the last month, there’s always room at the table for kale salad.

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Raw Tuscan Kale Salad

From 101 Cookbooks

1 bunch Tuscan kale (for ex: black or lacinato)
2 thin slices country bread, or two handfuls good, homemade coarse breadcrumbs
1/2 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
1/4 cup (or small handful) grated pecorino cheese, plus adiitional for garnish
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for garnish
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Trim the bottom few inches off the kale stems and discard. Slice the kale into 3/4-inch ribbons. You should have 4 to 5 cups. Place the kale in a large bowl.

If using the bread, toast it until golden brown on both sides and dry throughout. Tear into small pieces and pulse in a food processor until the mixture forms coarse crumbs, or crumbs to your liking.

Using a mortar and pestle or a knife, pound or mince the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a paste. Transfer the garlic to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pepper flakes, and black pepper and whisk to combine. Pour the dressing over the kale and toss very well (the dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat the leaves).. Let the salad sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with the bread crumbs, additional cheese, and a drizzle of oil.

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And the other recipe is for a cocktail, because you can’t possibly be tired of those yet- we still have New Year’s Eve to deal with. I adapted this recipe from 101 Cookbooks, also, altering it to include my favorite winter citrus fruit, meyer lemons.

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Meyer Lemon Gin Sparkler

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 bay leaf
meyer lemons
gin (I used Death’s Door)
tonic water

Directions:

Combine the water, sugar, rosemary, and bay leaf in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes, or long enough for the sugar to dissolve, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let infuse for 10 minutes. Strain into a jar to cool completely.

In the meantime, juice and strain your lemons.

To make each drink combine 1 1/2 ounces gin and 1 1/2 ounces lemon juice and a bit of rosemary syrup in a tall glass. Stir to combine, fill glass 2/3 full with ice and top off with 1 1/2 ounces of tonic water. Stir again and garnish with a rosemary sprig.

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Happy holidays.