When Life Hands You Lemons

Citrusy, smooth lemon curd.

Citrusy, smooth lemon curd.

When life hands you lemons, don’t just make lemonade, make lemon curd!….  Fresh lemons are a must in this recipe and they give it unbeatable flavor. When lemons are so plentiful in the marketplace, this is the time of year to make it.   For a lime-curd variation, substitute lime rind and juice.

Curd is a common tea-time treat, usually slathered on toast or scones.  It is so versatile.  British cooks also use it as a filling in trifles, tarts and cakes.   Lemon meringue pie is, essentially, lemon curd wearing a crown of meringue.

Traditionally curds are made with egg yolks and plenty of butter.  This recipe uses whole eggs and cornstarch, then you stir in a couple of tablespoons of butter at the end to achieve the velvety texture expected from curd, but with less fat and fewer calories.  Homemade curd will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week, you also can freeze it in a lidded container or zip-lock bag.  Thaw frozen curd in the refrigerator and use it within one week of thawing.

LEMON CURD

YIELD:   2 1/2 cups

Few ingredients, but big flavor!

Few ingredients, but big flavor!

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice, from about 5 medium lemons
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1.  Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium heavy saucepan, stirring with a whisk.  Stir in juice and eggs;  bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk.  Reduce heat, and simmer 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat;  add butter and lemon rind, stirring gently until butter melts.

2.  Spoon mixture into a medium bowl to cool.  Cover and chill at least 6 hours or overnight (mixture will thicken as it cools).

I wish you could scratch and taste this picture!

I wish you could scratch and taste this picture!

I had a plan in mind when I made this curd.  Be sure to stop back next week to see what I did with it…….

Serving size:   1 Tablespoon      Calories, 35;  Fat, 1 g.  Carb., 6.4 g.

SOURCE:    Cooking Light Annual Recipes, 2007

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Homemade Ricotta Cheese

“Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey”.  Ever wonder what that nursery rhyme was all about?  Well there’s no better way to explain than through the making of Ricotta Cheese.

Whipping up a batch of fresh ricotta cheese gets you bragging rights and a delicious product that is free of additives,etc.  Try some with a few Italian herbs and a little olive oil mixed in and served on bruschetta.  Sit back and enjoy the compliments.  You deserve them!

Before I get to the 1-2-3’s, let me talk a little bit about the process.  Because we are making cheese, we need milk.   It is best to use whole milk as it will give you a nice, rich ricotta that is smooth and creamy; not grainy like some commercial products can be.  From a half-gallon of milk, you will get about two cups of cheese.

Milk is made up of mostly water, with milk fat and some proteins.  The major proteins are of two types:  curds and whey.  Proteins are long strands of amino acids which when exposed to heat or acid, bond to each other producing curds.  The remaining liquid which is left behind is the whey.  Milk can “curdle” naturally as it ages and the bacteria in it multiply causing the milk to sour.  But the cheese we are making is achieved by causing the curdling intentionally by heating the milk and adding an acid.

Have the following supplies ready before you begin:

  • 1/2 gallon of milk
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a cooking thermometer
  • a colander lined with 5-6 layers of cheesecloth
  • a heavy-bottom saucepan

Combine the milk, vinegar and salt in the saucepan and heat to 185 degrees.  Stir frequently to prevent it from scorching.  As it heats, you will see the curd proteins clumping together.  Once it comes to temperature, take it off the heat, and let it sit for about 10 minutes to make sure it curdles completely.

Place the lined colander over a bowl to collect the whey. ( It can be used in place of milk in anything that uses milk i.e., pancakes, muffins, etc.)  Pour or ladle the curds into the cheesecloth and let it drain from 5-30 minutes.  A shorter drainage time will give a creamier cheese; a longer time will produce a drier more coarse cheese.  Pick up the bundle and gently squeeze out remaining whey.

Use the cheese warm on bruschetta or pasta, or place in an airtight container and refrigerate it.  It will keep for several days.

I used most of mine to make Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce, and I will be posting the recipe for that soon.  I’m sure I will be making the ricotta cheese again as I would like to try it in a cheesecake.  Oh, my thoughts just went spinning off imagining it served with  fresh strawberries.  Yum, Yum!  I’ll keep you posted.

Marinara Sauce

One of the things I like to have on hand at all times is Marinara Sauce.  This is the basic tomato sauce that I use the most.  This got me to thinking that from time to time I would write about foods that I consider “kitchen basics”, and this is one of them.  It is extremely easy to make,  and so worthwhile because it is so versatile.  During the time the sauce is simmering you can be doing something else.  This is a nice thick sauce that is great with any pasta shape. If you think it needs to be thinned down a little for a particular recipe you can add a little white wine to it.  It can also handle the addition of meatballs or sausage, and you can certainly add additional seasonings to your taste.

This recipe makes about 2 quarts (8cups);  3-4 cups will serve 4 over pasta.

MARINARA SAUCE

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil  (note;  use a good quality EVOO, one with a fruity flavor, because this enhances the sauce.)
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 ( 32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (note: here too, be sure to use the best canned ones you can find, preferably the San Marzano variety.)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (my preference)
In a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté  until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
 Add the tomatoes, bay leaves and any other seasonings you prefer, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens,about an hour.  Remove bay leaves and discard.  Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.
I like to double this recipe when I make it, so I can freeze the extra in 2-3 cup portions in freezer bags, or containers;  then it’s ready when I need some.
Source:  Giada De Laurentis, “Everyday Italian”,  with slight modifications.