Sunday, February 28, 2010

Seriously Citrusy

I never thought I'd be one for seasonal cooking, mostly because when I first started cooking, I was completely ignorant of what the heck foods you get in what the heck seasons. I know this will make some people want to reach through their computer and smack me, but living in California, I've always lived in close proximity to produce grown here in my state, as well as the stuff grown down in Mexico and Chile and other South American regions in our off-season. Blueberries, for example, never leave the grocery store. Sure, in the middle of January they cost $6 for the tiniest of containers, but they're there. When I wasn't cooking, I wasn't buying as much fresh produce, so I never really noticed when the produce was cheap vs. ridiculously expensive in the context seasonality. It's a bit pathetic, I know, but I have since developed a healthy respect for summer fruits, winter leafy greens, and everything in between.

What does that have to do with anything? Well I've been having a serious hankering for citrus the last few weeks, which, you'd never guess, is in season right now! Or at least, it was when I was actually making the things I'm about to share with you.

candied orange peels

First, I saw recipe after recipe for candied citrus peels, and decided to try it. Apparently the natural pectin in citrus peels, when cooked with lots and lots of sugar, become like a gummy candy. Neat, huh? I had to try this with orange peels because I used to love the orange gummy candies my grandma kept in her candy dish when I was a kid (you know, those ones that are shaped like an orange slice?), and it worked out because I also was making orange chicken later that day, so I used both the juice and the peel from the oranges. I'm so green!

Candying orange peels is quite an undertaking! I used this set of instructions, courtesy of I made that! First I peeled and cut the peels from about 8 oranges (it took a long time). Then, I boiled the peels in water and a ton of sugar. Now be careful here. Keep it at a very very gentle simmer. I let my liquid boil too violently and ended up with a hard sticky mess (which I rectified by adding more water to thin it back out). Then I parked the pot of peels in the fridge for 2 days (it took up more room than I would have liked). When they were good and soaked I dried them in the oven, over verrrrrry low heat. Then tossed them with sugar, and voila! Candied citrus peels!

I will say, this was not an easy recipe. There were a lot of steps, and as I found out, doing things not just so resulted in not exactly pristine results. But that's ok. I learned some valuable lessons I can employ next time around.

Overall these turned out pretty good. Texture-wise, they were perfect: soft and chewy. Taste-wise they were good, but some of the peels still hung on to a bit of their bitterness. I think that could be remedied with cooking the peels longer, and soaking them in the right consistency liquid. Basically, if I don't mess it up next time, they should come out a little better. Since it's the pectin in the peels that makes them gummy and delicious, fruits with a thicker peel come out yummier. I hear pomelos are actually the best citrus to candy.

meyer lemon marmalade over Greek-style yogurt

Next, when I saw the recipe from Simply Recipes on meyer lemon marmalade, I knew I had to make it immediately. First off, I am completely in love with meyer lemons. They are so sweet and mellow and citrusy and just delicious! Now jams vs. jellies vs. preserves vs. marmalades, etc. always confuses me a bit, but marmalade is made from citrus and includes the peels, so can have a bit of a bite to it that some don't like. But I like it just fine! Unlike my candied orange peels, this marmalade was easy and came out delicious! I've been enjoying a few spoonfuls on some Greek-style yogurt, and together they are heavenly! I highly recommend.

In this cold winter weather, I love the bight, light flavors of citrus to bring sunshine to my day.