Winter is citrus season as lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit are at their peak and abundant in produce departments around Calgary.

And the fruits are available in more varieties than we’ll see at other times of the year.

Fresh citrus fruits are not only high in vitamin C but low in calories, and provide a sunny flavour boost to all kinds of dishes in the bleak midwinter.

Make lemonade

Make a simple syrup out of equal parts sugar and lemon juice — or any citrus juice —​ simmered on the stovetop until the sugar dissolves. (If you have a handful of fresh mint, it makes a delicious addition  just strain it afterward.)

Refrigerate and add to regular or sparkling water to make real lemonade, or add the syrup to cocktails. (Lime syrup is particularly tasty in a gin and tonic.)

Lemonade

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Add grapefruit to a salad

Segment your grapefruit over a bowl to catch the juice, and add them to a salad. They go particularly well with butter lettuce, avocado and crumbled feta. Then add some oil, a blob of mustard and pinch of sugar to the juice in the bowl and whisk for a quick grapefruit dressing.

Grapefruit salad

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Make a batch of possets

A posset is like a crème brûlée, or panna cotta, without eggs or gelatin. The acid in the lemon and lime juices react with the cream, causing the mixture to thicken on its own to perfectly smooth consistency.

All you need to do is heat, stir, pour into ramekins or small dishes and chill — and it's easier than making a box of Jell-O.

Meyer Lemon and Key Lime Possets (adapted from the May 2007 issue of Bon Appétit)

  • 2 ¼ cups whipping cream
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. Meyer lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. Key lime juice

Bring the cream and sugar to boil over medium-high heat, then cook for three minutes, stirring it with a whisk, turning the heat down or lifting the pot from the burner as it tries to boil over.

Remove from heat and stir in the lemon and lime juice and let it sit for 5 minutes or so to cool a bit. Stir again and divide among six ½-cup ramekins or small dishes. Cover (or not) and chill for an hour or two until set.

Makes six possets.

Lemon Lime possets

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Bake lemon biscuits

Just because you can.

Grated lemon zest could be added to any biscuit recipe, but this is one of the easiest, and tastiest. Feel free to swap other citrus zest  grapefruit would be delish  and grate it as finely as you can to release the most flavour.

Lemon Cream Biscuits

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • grated zest of a lemon
  • extra cream or milk, for brushing (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir the lemon zest into the cream, add to the flour mixture and stir just until the dough comes together. 

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough a few times, then pat into a circle about an inch thick.

Cut into wedges and transfer onto a parchment-lined baking sheet; if you like, brush the tops with milk or extra cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm.

Makes six biscuits.

Lemon scones

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Make Paletas de Pay de Limón

Otherwise known as Key lime pie ice pops, this is a simple way to enjoy citrus.

Whisk together a can of sweetened condensed milk, a cup of half & half, and the grated zest and juice of two limes. Freeze in popsicle moulds and if you like, serve in a small pile of graham cracker crumbs to complete the Key lime pie effect.

Key Lime pops

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Make the most of your zest

If you plan to juice a lemon, finely grate the zest to freeze or add to a jar of sugar. 

In fact, whizzing plain white sugar with lemon (or lime, grapefruit or orange) zest will release even more of its flavour, infusing the sugar with a citrus scent. Use in tea, sprinkled on cookies, or in baked goods.

Grating lemon

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Add zest to your cookies

When baking, adding the zest first along with the butter and sugar. If you’re beating the two together, it will release a maximum amount of flavour into your batter or dough. 

Try adding orange zest to dark chocolate chunk cookies — it’s a pretty fantastic flavour combination.

Orange Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

  • ¾ cup butter, at room temp
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • finely grated zest of an orange
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 8 oz. (or more) dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into chunks
  • ½ cup candied citron (optional)

Preheat oven to  350˚F.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugars and orange zest until pale and almost fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Add the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt and stir or beat on low until almost combined; add the chocolate chunks and citron (if you’re using it) and stir just until blended.

Drop dough by the spoonful onto a parchment-lined (or buttered) sheet and bake for 10-14 minutes (depending on their size) until golden around the edges but still soft in the middle. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes more than a dozen large cookies.

Orange chocolate chunk cookies

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

DIY Chinese food

Make your own lemon (or orange) chicken. Try Meyer lemons, which are like a cross between the two; the sauce recipe is easily doubled if you want to stash a batch in the freezer for faster food next time.

Crispy Chinese Meyer Lemon Chicken

Chicken:

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, patted dry and cut into strips or 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • canola oil, for frying

Lemon Sauce:

  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • finely grated zest of a regular or Meyer lemon
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce

Cut the chicken into one-inch pieces or strips and put into a zip-lock bag with the soy sauce and ginger. Refrigerate for an hour, or overnight. When you’re ready to cook, add the egg white to the bag and squish it around to coat the chicken.

Put the cornstarch into a shallow bowl.

To make the sauce, bring all the ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan; cook for a couple minutes, until thickened.

Heat a couple inches of oil in a heavy pot or skillet set over medium-high heat. When it’s hot but not smoking (a scrap of bread should sizzle when dipped in), dip pieces of chicken in the cornstarch to coat, then gently lower into the hot oil.

Cook in batches, then remove from the oil with tongs or a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour the lemon sauce overtop and toss to coat; serve immediately over rice.

Serves four to six.

Lemon chicken

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)