Even though this March still feels like winter, my palate tells me it's time to move on to the brighter flavors and lighter meals of spring. Yes, we may be putting on our heavy coats and shoveling snow for another few weeks, but in my kitchen I'm cooking like it's short-sleeve season. Since it may still be a while before our farmers markets are brimming with fresh produce, I find that a splash of citrus brings a little sunshine into almost anything it touches.
A pairing my family especially enjoys is lemon with chicken. I tuck lemon wedges inside my roasting chickens and grate lemon zest into my stir-fries, but one of the most delicious partnerships is baked chicken breasts with lemon.
It's hard to get a table full of diners excited about plain baked chicken breasts. They don't have a lot of flavor on their own and, when baked, are often stringy, too. When those much maligned chicken breasts are combined with the perky flavors of lemon, however, they become much more interesting. That may be why you see citrus juices included in so many marinade recipes.
While marinating does add flavor, letting protein sit in a highly acidic liquid for a long period can actually toughen it. So instead of marinating my chicken breasts, which I don't have time for on a weeknight anyway, I mix up my marinade ingredients and just bake the chicken in the mixture. The liquid will flavor the chicken and keep it moist and, since it's not sitting in it too long, it will come out tender, too. Plus, the juices in the bottom of the pan make a perfect sauce when spooned over rice.
Next time you go shopping, toss a few lemons into your cart. Even if you can't control the weather, it can be springtime in your kitchen whenever you wish.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.