I’m just not a New Year’s resolution person.
I don’t usually even try to pick “one word” to carry me through an entire year.
And I’d rather save even my healthy eating goals (beyond the daily) for Lent.
But this year I’m strangely ahead of the game (look out folks, apocalypse must be coming if Katie’s not late for something!!). I’ve already decided what I’m focusing on in the kitchen for 2016:
This post is sponsored by ALDI.
I figure I can gear up for my goal and practice a little this holiday season, and then when 2016 hits, I’m buying lemons or limes every week.
What am I going to do with them?
That’s exactly the question I’ve always asked and why there have often been lemon wedges languishing in their own slime in my refrigerator until I put them out of their misery.
I was fortunate to visit the ALDI Test Kitchen last month, and Chef Brigitte Nguyen treated us to an engaging presentation on “Where to Spend and Where to Save” when entertaining for the holidays. She is the kind of gal I’d love to just have over for dinner and cook together and talk one another’s ears off! She uses a lot of the time and money-saving strategies that I already espouse (or at least know about and have good intentions of doing!), and her style is simply uncomplicated, to the point, and focused on making people smile with her food and party atmosphere.
Some of her tips were just golden:
- Set up small appetizer trays around the room(s) so that everyone isn’t crammed into the kitchen hovering over you while you do the last few things. (And I learned that ALDI has some seriously incredible meats and cheeses which are going to be my new “go-to” for party appetizers! I totally bought up the store for Thanksgiving festivities, no kidding, including 4 items from the photo below.)
- Speaking of cooking during your party – her make-ahead tips are fabulous. Anything you can do before hand, including planning a menu that doesn’t require much hands-on work in the moment, is your best option.
- Instead of having a vast array of drinks to choose from or spending all your socializing time making a fancy signature cocktail, choose simple wines that fit each course and only serve those.
- Don’t stress about dessert. She’s a huge homemade from-scratch gal, but if you’re running out of time and bandwidth for a party, a few specialty cookies or dark chocolates make a beautiful dessert, and she even provides little goodie bags so people don’t feel like they have to stuff themselves just to try everything. (As I mentioned recently, ALDI has UTZ Certified chocolate from sustainable sources that is SO great.)
Watch for a chance to win some ALDI cookies and chocolates coming very soon!!
And then there was the “brightening up” part that really caught my attention.
Why I’m no Longer Skipping Citrus
I’m the kind of cook who will simply skip a minor ingredient if it’s not something I stock regularly. This happens a lot with zest! Any recipe that calls for a bit of lime or lemon zest, if it’s not the focus of the recipe, I typically just skip or splash in some bottled juice. I figure I get most of the flavor without it.
I’ve heard people say before that a little lemon juice will “brighten up the recipe” and in fact I’ve totally written that into my own recipes before! But I didn’t really get how it worked.
Chef Brigitte talked about how the zing of lemon or lime in the midst of something savory wakes up your tongue and makes even something made of frozen or roasted vegetables taste more like fresh spring veggies right from the garden. Now she’s speaking my language! Who wouldn’t want a bit of CSA box freshness in the fall and winter as everything is dying around us outside?
And in cookies and cakes and such, citrus (zest, usually) acts a little bit like salt does in a soup – it enhances all the flavors you want and doesn’t barge through with its own agenda.
My Zesty Confession
I’ve had lemon, lime and orange zest in my freezer since before we moved…four years ago.
Clearly even when I see a recipe that uses zest, I either skip the recipe or forget I have some. That’s a little pathetic. And now that I feel all inspired by citrus and know how it’s going to enhance my cooking flavors, I’m determined to use it more often.
To meet my 2016 goal, I’ll be working to incorporate lemon and lime juice and zest more in:
- Salad dressings
- Steamed or roasted veggie sides (add a squeeze of juice after cooking to bring back the fresh flavor)
- Cookies or cakes or muffins (these grain-free coconut flour muffins are a prime candidate for a dash of lemon or lime zest, I’m sure! Especially if I do the cranberry-walnut version, mmmm…)
- In herbal teas
- Mexican dishes
- Soups (also best added at the end or even at the table)
So far in my practice phase I’ve grabbed some limes from ALDI (19c each!!) and used the zest in a spicy dressing recipe that usually only calls for lemon juice; had fresh lime juice instead of bottled for our homemade guacamole; and completely forgot about it on steamed broccoli and when I made gluten-free pumpkin cookies and gluten-free pumpkin muffins. I wonder if a bit of lemon zest would have been noticeable! Wish I would have tried it in half the recipe; that would have been such a cool side-by-side test. Drat.
I’m a work in progress! That’s why I need a practice phase.
How to Use Citrus Frugally
If I was enjoying Chef Brigitte’s talk from the beginning (and I was), I became enamored with her when she said, “Always zest a lemon or lime even if you don’t need the zest right away – you’ve paid for it already, so use it twice!”
How often have you thrown away the outsides of citrus, tossing something you paid for that could be used? (Raises hand. Hands. Waving wildly in the air…)
Here’s how my lemon buying habits used to go:
- Grab a lemon (or 2 or 3) with good intentions of drinking lemon water and/or using it in a recipe.
- Leave lemon in the fridge for 2 weeks.
- Come across lemon and oh! guiltily pull it out and slice it into wedges.
- Use one wedge in lemon water and put the rest in a container in the fridge.
- Notice it every few days and think, “Darn! I should have grabbed that this morning…”
- Forget about the lemons for a while.
- Rediscover lemon wedges, now slimy and covered with speckles of green and pink.
- Throw away lemons.
Not frugal or smart!
Now that I know many other ways to just USE the lemon juice without needing a special recipe, that’s half the battle. But there are a few other ways to make sure you’re not throwing away something you purchased:
1. Freeze the Juice
I’ve done this often but lately have been wayyyy out of the habit: juice a bunch of lemons or limes and freeze the juice in tablespoon-sized portions in an ice cube tray. Pop the cubes out and store in a zippered bag, and they’re ready to use for all sorts of applications!
A small cube like that will thaw in an hour in a bowl on the counter, and it’s usually usable within 10 minutes especially if the bowl is set near the stove (or even on the center of the stovetop) to catch some heat from cooking.
This way you can buy a whole bag of lemons and not worry so much about them going bad. Just juice most of them right away and leave one in the fridge for fresh use. You can also put some squeezed juice in a small jar in the fridge for a week or two.
But wait!!! Before you juice them —
2. Zest the citrus
Like Chef Brigitte said, you’ve already paid for it, and the zest is sitting right there ready to enhance your cooking and baking. Grab a microplane grater and zest the lemon or lime before you slice into it for wedges or juice. Be sure to really scrub the outside if you can’t source organic, since most citrus is treated with chemicals to prevent mold.
You can keep the zest in a container in the fridge for a while, or…
3. Freeze the zest
You probably shouldn’t keep it as long as I have (the whole point is to use it!!) but citrus zest will keep in the freezer for a good, long time! The risk is that its intense flavor will fade as the weeks go by.
The zest should come apart just fine if you simply store it in a baggie (little sandwich bags, one for each type of fruit, all store in a large freezer bag would be ideal). If you want to measure out teaspoon-sized portions first, you could wrap each one in a square of plastic wrap and store all those in a baggie – but then we’re using more plastic and taking time, and neither are really up my alley (although it’s how the zest from years and years ago is stored!!!).
4. Clean the garbage disposal
When you have zested and squeezed all the juice out, you’re left with a wedge or halved peel – toss each one in the garbage disposal to freshen things up the next time you run it! You can even use the squeezed-out-rinds to help clean your wooden cutting board before it goes down the drain, a 4-for-1 deal (juice, zest, wooden board, garbage disposal).
If you’ve batched this job, please don’t put allllll the peels in at once. Just one at a time, and make sure your garbage disposal can handle it (we have a super heavy duty one that grinds them without complaint).
Recipe: Pea Pesto Appetizer
- 16 ounces Season’s Choice Sweet Peas, thawed
- ½ red onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 2 tsp. lemon zest, plus additional for garnish
- 2 basil leaves, plus additional for garnish
- 1 clove garlic, roasted and coarsely chopped
- ¼ c. Carlini Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Priano Parmesan Cheese Wedge, grated for garnish
- In a food processor, combine peas, onion, lemon juice, lemon zest, basil, and garlic.
- While food processor is running, slowly add oil.
- Add salt and pepper to taste (be sure to taste it!).
- Serve on freshly toasted crusty bread, homemade crackers, or grain-free with red pepper, carrot and cucumber slices, cut on a bias so they're nice and long.
* Reprinted with permission from ALDI.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by ALDI, but all the opinions are my own.