The people at New Metro Design, who brought you the BeaterBlade and the MixerMate Bowl, are at it again with the ZestN’est. The ZestN’est is an updated take on a microplane and is designed with zesting citrus in mind. The gadget is shaped like a half of a lemon, with a microplane-style grater on what would be the cut side of the fruit. As you grate, the zest falls right into the N’est, which pops open to release the zest when you’re ready to add it to the rest of your cooking or baking ingredients. It also comes with a cover that will allow you to store the zest in the N’est and keep it fresh.
I really liked the look and the design of the ZestN’est right off the bat. It was easy to hold, and the way it collected the zest was convenient. The stainless steel zesting blade seemed unusually sharp to me, and it is indeed designed to give you either a fine or coarse zest depending on how much pressure you use. Longer, coarser zest would be better for garnishing drinks than baking, and it took me a few tries to get use to using less pressure to get the zest I wanted. I liked this zester even more for shaving chocolate and grating spices. For these two tasks, which usually result in very fine particles getting all over my cutting board, the N’est really came in handy to collect all of my shavings and the blade was easily sharp enough to grate nutmeg and cinnamon with very little effort. I’m not going to replace my microplanes with these (yes, I do have multiple microplanes), but it’s a useful and attractive gadget to keep around or to gift to someone that might need a little zest in their lives.
Lemon bars are a fantastic treat when you have fresh lemons around. The best bars have lots of real lemon juice in them, after all, not just a few drops of juice or a bit of extract. The same holds true for lime bars, which are simply a variation on lemon bars that feature limes, rather than lemons. This lime bar recipe uses a lot of freshly squeezed lime juice and tempers its tartness with buttermilk, sugar, eggs and vanilla to make a delicious topping for these shortbread bars.
The base of these bars can be whipped in in just a few seconds in the food processor. In fact, the filling can also be whizzed together in just a few seconds in the food processor, so although you might invest a few minutes squeezing and zesting limes for these bars, they take almost no time to throw together. The shortbread base is made by cutting cold butter into a mixture of flour and sugar. This mixture is pressed into your pan and baked until just set, then it is topped with the lime mixture and baked a second time. The beauty of this technique is that you don’t need to wait for the crust to cool before that second baking – just pour the lime filling onto the hot crust and put it back in the oven!
The finished bars have a zesty, lime curd-like topping with a really fresh lime flavor, and a good balance between sweet and tart. The shortbread base is tender and buttery; you definitely get a nice hit of butter in every bite. Dust the tops of these bars with confectioners’ sugar before serving to dress them up a bit, or simply serve them plain. They are good both chilled and at room temperature.
Microplanes are great tools to have around the kitchen because they really simplify a number of different tasks. They are ideal for zesting citrus fruits, make it easy to grate whole spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, and are great for doing a quick shred of hard cheeses, like parmesan. If you really want to get your money’s worth out, you can even use them to mince garlic by rubbing a clove over the fine, sharp grates. Microplanes are touted as being easy to clean, and while they’re not difficult, it can take a little experimentation to figure out the best way to get all the food out of those tiny little holes.
Most microplanes are dishwasher safe, but loading them into the dishwasher isn’t enough to get those bits of zest off; you end up with stuck-on zest more often than a clean microplane after putting a dirty one in the dishwasher. I find that the best way to clean it is to take a soapy sponge or kitchen brush (one of the bristly scrubbers) and run it down the front of the microplane in the same direction as the blades go, loosening food without shredding your brush or sponge. Then, flip the microplane over and do the same thing on the backside, hopefully removing most of the bits you already loosened. I find that a couple of wipes and my microplane is very clean. I will put mine in the dishwasher at this point if I’ve used it for garlic or something smelly and feel like it needs a second cleaning so as not to contaminate my next batch of lemon zest with garlic.
Adding zest from fresh citrus is one of the easiest and best ways to brighten up the flavor of a dish, or to infuse an extra burst into some baked goods. For years, however, getting the zest – the brightly colored outer part of the rind – from citrus was a tricky business. Your options were to either peel the fruit as best you could and add thin slices of zest into a recipe, or, if you were lucky, to use a regular zester to scrape long slices of zest from the citrus’ skin. These days, all you need is a microplane and adding zest to a recipe becomes easier than you could imagine.
A microplane is a rasp-like grater, developed by the Microplane Company, that hit the market in the 1990s. It is based on the design for a woodworking rasp, and has a long metal shaft covered with small, sharp metal teeth. These teeth don’t cut down far into the fruit, just far enough into the rind to get the flavorful zest off, shredding it into very fine ribbons that easily incorporate into any recipe. Microplanes are extremely efficient, and once you have used one, you’ll never go back to any other method of zesting fruit.
For those interested in multipurpose kitchen products, a microplane can also be used to grate hard cheeses, like Parmesan, and to grate spices, like nutmeg. The teeth are extremely sharp, even though they are small, so be careful if you choose to grate smaller spices (or other things) with the microplane so that you don’t accidentally grate a fingertip or two!