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Posts Tagged ‘citrus’

I love lemons and I love old recipes. Recently, after a long hiatus that involved too much hither and yonning all over the state, I got on Google maps and actually found my kitchen again. The above and below are testament to what can be done while exhausted and needing to be comforted.

My friend Rachel loves to bring me little treats when she visits, and last September she brought me a copy of Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book (1942). I don’t mind relaying that I can do without their recipe for Boiled Asparagus, and don’t understand the preoccupation of the day with suspending almost anything in gelatin. But most of the recipes are true blue, and many more look really incredible; to my modern mind, the authors show a wonderful audacity with ingredients and flavors, and I really, really envy how common oysters, black walnuts, and persimmons were back then. Whew.

But a few days ago I was in the mood for lemons, certainly because it’s spring and they’re in season, and also likely because I was run down and in need of a smack of citrus. This was a treat: Called Delicate Lemon Pudding, it combines lemon juice and zest, sugar, milk, egg yolks, egg whites beat to stiff peaks, butter, and a little bit of flour to hold it all together. It gets poured into a baking dish, set in a bain-marie, and baked. Then it goes into the fridge to chill up.

I made this during last week’s heat wave and told my friends I imagined people in the ’40s pulling it out of the icebox on a sultry day. Did it myself. When you dip into it, the pudding has an appealing way of being dry and tender on top (that’s the browned meringue), frothy in the middle, and sweet and milky underneath, almost like a lemon milkshake. Next time I’ll use less sugar and more lemon juice and zest, but it was a really lovely win.

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Everyone I know is getting sick. I guess it’s Winter’s last villainous hurrah. Or mwahahahaha and a flicking together of the fingers, as is typically the case with pointy-chinned Scooby-Doo villains.

I did the only sensible thing and made lemon squares. Been eating two a day like a good girl.

What, it’s citrus.

🙂

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I never had much of a thing for lemons until a few years ago. They were something served with fish, or they occasionally, delicately, flavored a cookie. Sort of forgettable fruits.

Then I had stomach problems, bad ones, and was forced to swear off anything citrusy for a good couple of years. I missed oranges and orange juice. When that time mercifully ended, I had powerful cravings for citrus, but not in sweetie-pie doses like the aforementioned lemon cookies. Standard lemon cookies, bars, squares—none of them cut it anymore, not even those from homey bakeries. If I was going to eat something with lemon, I wanted to TASTE it. Which meant making my own lemon desserts.

A few years back I read with interest an article about lemons in the food section of my local paper. It was engaging, telling of the writer’s adoration of lemon curd, but ended on the most depressing note: the writer said he had never had luck making curd at home and that it was best just to go out and buy it.

The poor, misguided soul was fairly begging for someone to set him straight, so I wrote him and told him in a very polite but firm tone that food writers should be encouraging their readers to cook, to get used to the feel and temperament of ingredients—not to have a couple of botch-ups and then give up. Then I gave him the below lemon curd recipe. He agreed graciously, I’m happy to say.

I’ve had this recipe for a while and have tweaked it this way and that. Add more or fewer eggs to increase or decrease richness (though, really, the lemon flavor in this is so assertive that richness takes more than a back seat to it. It’s not even in the back seat; it’s sitting on the trunk and holding onto the spoiler for dear life. So extra richness is hardly worth considering, in my opinion.) This is NOT a recipe for those who think boxed lemon cookies taste just swell. It is for those few who jones for the eye-dabbing kick that real lemon zest and real, undiluted lemon juice gives.

Make the curd with ordinary lemons from the supermarket and it’s delicious. Make it with Meyer lemons, that current darling of the food world (as well as of my own), and the result is stratospheric. The bracing sunny sweetness will actually make your day a little happier, I promise.

3/4 c granulated sugar (use a little bit less if you really like a lemon wallop)

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind (if you have one of those microplane graters, use it here)

2 large eggs (or 1 egg plus 1 white)

The juice of three big lemons

A pat of  butter, about a tablespoon or so

Put sugar, rind and eggs in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir it with a whisk until the sugar dissolves. This takes 2-3 minutes.

Add lemon juice and your pat of butter and whisk for about 5 minutes more, until the mixture becomes a bit thicker. To chill, put a lid on the pan, put a dishtowel on a rack in your fridge and set the pan on it. It will thicken up in the fridge some more, and makes about 1 1/2 cups.

I’m told this can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, but if your resistance is anything like mine, that tip is kind of immaterial. Apparently it can also be frozen in a freezer Ziploc. Again, hearsay.

This curd is lovely spread between layers of white cake, on hot scones or biscuits served with very cold, thick whipped cream, or as the top layer of the best lemon squares you’ve ever eaten.

I doubled this recipe as a birthday present for my mom, who ate every bit in the best way I can think of: just as the title above suggests.

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Strong flavors, those that make the eyes water and taste buds go ker-POW—it’s rare that one appreciates them until adulthood. Some still don’t, even then. But for those of us who do, we crave them like we do oxygen.

Horseradish. Fresh lemon zest. Dark, bitter chocolate. Thick, Grade B maple syrup. Raw garlic. Mazi, the NJ-made piri piri pepper hot sauce I adore that’s powered by 175,000 Scoville heat units. A little goes a long way, but what a way, baby.

What we eat can hold up a mirror to our private selves and reveal secrets we may or may not want others to see. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, was drinking black espresso in Italy when a passerby commented that her life must be very sweet if she likes her coffee so inky black. And it was true that her life was beginning to become very sweet indeed. Pair Liz up against a guest I saw on a talk show who, over the course of a few weeks, ate spoonfuls of sugar out of five pound bags until she emptied them. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, she wasn’t a sweet tooth. Not in the usual sense, anyway. No, she was working much too hard, doing much too much (sound familiar?). She was missing sweetness in her life. Once she made time for the things, and people, she had been neglecting, she lost the compulsion to snack on plain sugar.

What about the person who craves strong flavors? Maybe she grew up eating them in India or South America or Thailand, and they transport her back to home and family. Maybe enjoying them came later, as was the case for my uncle. Stationed in Texas years ago, he grew to adore that region’s cuisine. When he came back to NJ and made chili for his family, it was so spicy that my mom called it inedible. But he sure was happy with it.

Sometimes the love for those flavors goes deeper. I have a friend who was taught to distance himself from his feelings. But when he ate raw garlic or hot sauce it made him feel again; it was less the flavors than the hidden feelings he craved. And spicy food turned out to be one of the paths that brought him back to his emotions for good.

As for me, I had an ulcer about 10 years ago. While I never was crazy about strong flavors, I liked a little taste here and there. But when I was sick it was all off limits: no garlic or hot pepper flakes, no chocolate or citrus of any kind. A sad year or two went by like this, and I was surprised at how much I missed those awesome little bright spots in my food, how much I had taken them for granted.

Once I was healthy again, I embraced everything I had enjoyed in small amounts. But now I ate them in bigger amounts. Never one for Southeast Asian food or horseradish or anchovy, now I made a point to try them again…and loved them all. I’m not saying I’m glad I had the ulcer, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn’t be eating Japanese-style wasabi with my salmon now if I hadn’t been denied it before.

I found the below recipe long ago. It’s often called Gentlemen’s Spread, but I like the original name: Scotch Woodcock. I love homey food from the UK, and this is currently my favorite.

When I first made this and took a bite, I actually started to laugh out loud at just how ridiculously luxurious it was. This serves one, but can easily be multiplied for more. Here we go.

Take out an egg and a small bowl and beat the egg with a fork. Then add a couple of tablespoons of milk (or cream, if you want to go nuts).

Toast a slice of bread and smear on some softened unsalted butter.

On top of that, spread three tablespoons of anchovy paste, either from a tube or from whole anchovies that you’ve blitzed in a little food processor. (Last time I made this I used too many anchovies and when I took a bite it felt like I had been hit in the face by several pounds of fish that had been saturated in salt and thrown at point-blank range out of a pickle bucket. I won’t do it again, but if you dig that sort of thing, by all means, enjoy.)

If you’re multiplying this recipe for a crowd and you have a warming oven, stick the buttered, anchovied toast in there now to keep it hot while you keep cooking.

Heat up a small pan with another pat of butter, and add your egg mixture. Stay with it and stir very, very gently with a fork. Actually, don’t stir it so much as push it around a little; the goal is to get it just barely cooked through.

Spread the eggs on top of the anchovy toast. You can get all fancy and add a couple of whole anchovies on top as I did above, or just get right in there.

Take a nice greedy bite. Just for a few seconds, let your whole world become that surprising, addictive combination of crunchy and creamy and rich and salty and fishy. Laugh if you’re compelled.

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