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All About Lemons

Most of our recipes include lemon juice or lemon zest, and often both.  We always have lemons in our kitchen, a place where lemons are used in salad dressings, cookie mixes, soups, tea, and everything in between – Adam even eats them by themselves … oh yeah, I’m not joking – he sits on the couch with half a lemon and salt, sprinkles a little salt on the lemon (which usually makes its way to the  sofa) and eats it… not my cup of tea, but he enjoys it and hey no one can say he does not get enough Vitamin C – I just wish every time I sat on the sofa, I did not have to sit on mounds of salt!  While the two of us can go through a whole bag of lemons in under a week, we have come to realize… well, we are a tad bit strange (some may suggest that lemons are just the beginning, but we won’t go there).

So, since this is a topic we feel extremely confident with, we thought we would try to brighten your day with some lemon tips and tricks we use in our own kitchen.  Our list is by no means complete; there are so many ways to use lemons, for example: did you know you can highlight your hair with them??? (read: we are not suggesting you highlight your hair with lemon juice, it was only an example).  Let’s keep the tips to the kitchen shall we…

#1 How Many Do I Need?

So you are super excited to try a new recipe that calls for 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and a teaspoon of lemon zest … now you are in front of the lemon stand at the store and cannot for the life of you decide how many to buy…

Just remember that an average sized lemon will provide you with approximately 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest.  So, if you need 3 tablespoons of juice, we suggest buying at least 2 lemons.

#2 How do you pick a good lemon?

When buying lemons, be sure to look for smooth-skinned lemons that feel heavy for their size; by the way that goes for limes, oranges and grapefruits too.

#3 The recipe calls for the zest of a lemon, how do I do that?

A lot of recipes (especially ours) call for the zest of a lemon instead of juice or a call for a combination of both since lemon zest has much more of an intense lemon flavor compared to the juice due to the oils found in the skin.

To zest lemons, in our own kitchen, we will use one of the following options:

  • Our favorite:  Use a microplane; carefully rub the lemon against the tiny blades of the micro plane until you have enough for your recipe.  We purchased our micro plane for about $10 and you can find them in almost any kitchen store.
  • For longer strands of zest, use a more traditional zester, again this runs around $10 and can be found at any kitchen store.
  • Use a vegetable peeler and carefully peel the outer skin of the lemon, then use a knife to carefully slice that into smaller strands of zest

By the way, when zesting a lemon, no matter which method you choose,  make sure to remove only the thin bright yellow part of the skin; the white pith underneath is bitter.

#4 My recipe calls for both lemon zest and juice, what should I do first?

If you plan to use both the zest and juice of a lemon, make sure you zest the lemon first.  It is very difficult and can be unsafe to attempt to zest a lemon after you have squeezed out the juice.

#5 How should I store lemons, on the counter or in the fridge?

If you do not plan to use your lemons the same day as buying them, store them in the fridge, they will last longer.

#6 You said I should get about 2 tablespoons of juice out of my lemon … I didn’t, did I buy a bad lemon?

Probably not, if you kept the lemon in the fridge then it may just be difficult to squeeze the juices out – Try rolling it on a hard surface to loosen the juices or place it in the microwave for about 10 seconds.  You should find the juices squeeze out a little easier.

{We almost tried to make a joke about used cars here, but decided against it…}

#7 I only needed half a lemon, now what?

If you could use it in a recipe over the next 2 days, tightly cover the leftover half with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.

If you do not have a plan to use it up in the next couple of days try one of these ideas…

Make simple lemon vinaigrette – Whisk ½ cup olive oil, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, ½ teaspoon lemon zest, ½ teaspoon sugar, and a dash pepper for a simple, light and delicious dressing for salad, and roasted vegetables

**add a minced garlic clove or 1 tablespoon of minced shallot for additional flavor

Reduce your salt intake – instead of adding that last dash of salt to your meal, squeeze a little lemon juice just before serving … the acidity of the lemon juice livens up your palate, making the food much more flavorful and enjoyable.

Liven up those veggies – brighten up your vegetable side with a little bit of fruity olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, its not just broccoli anymore.

Add some zing to your favorite muffin or cookie recipe – add 1-2 teaspoons of lemon zest to muffin, cake, cookie and quick bread recipes for more flavor.

Prevent discoloration – toss sliced fruit like apples or avocados in a little lemon juice to prevent discoloration.

Clean and freshen up your microwave – Cut the leftover lemon into slices and add it to a small bowl of water.  Place the bowl into your microwave and turn on for about 30 seconds to a minute; wipe the oven out, you should find any stains a little easier to remove and odors will be neutralized.

Clean your wooden cutting boards – sprinkle some course salt on your cutting board then take half a lemon and rub, cut side down, all over the board – odors like garlic and onion will be neutralized

Freshen up your garbage disposal – cut the lemon into small pieces and throw them into your garbage disposal, turn it on with running water for immediate lemony freshness (note: only do this if you believe your garbage disposal can handle it, ours can and it works really well, but if yours is older or on its last legs, you may want to skip this one)

Get rid of fishy or garlicky odors from your hands – rubbing your hands with lemon juice will neutralize the smell of fish or garlic and leave your hands smelling fresh.

For more fun, take a look at some of our favorite recipes where lemons are used:

Simply Roasted Chicken – along side garlic, lemon infuses this roasted chicken keeping it moist and flavorful

Diablo Pasta Sauce with Clams and Shrimp – We used lemon juice right before serving to brighten up this recipe

Smitten Kitchen Lemon Bars – Woah, these are really good

Simply Recipes Glazed Lemon Bread – Lemon is the star in this bread recipe

We use all of these tips and tricks in our kitchen, but there are many many more, take a look at the following links for more ways to use up those lemons:

Green Living Tips

Martha Stewart

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4 comments… Leave a Comment
  • mary December 6, 2012, 10:28 am

    I need to know that if I do not have a lemon but I do have lemon juice will a cookie still be yummy If I just don’t add the zest??

    • Joanne December 6, 2012, 4:30 pm

      Lemon zest definitely adds a lot more lemony flavor that lemon juice alone would. However, if it is all you have, try it. It won’t be as lemony, but should still taste good.

  • Bellini Valli December 1, 2009, 8:52 pm

    Thanks for all the excellent tips. Lemon is my chocolate!!!

  • Wendi December 1, 2009, 12:32 pm

    Microwaving lemons is my favorite tip to make them easier to juice if I’m doing a big batch of them…like for lemonade.


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