When Life Hands you Lemons…Use ‘Em to Brighten Your Summer Menu!

Iowa summer is officially here, mamas! I’ve been busy trotting my kiddo to swim lessons, mainlining iced coffee, and counting the days until I can bite into my first ear of sweet corn. I have the good fortune of having a partner who likes to grill, so our oven gets a break from June to September. But there are only so many ways you can eat grilled chicken breast without starting to cluck.

Enter lemons, the sunny citrus whose bright color just makes you feel more, well, summery.

Lemons are an affordable way to elevate your breakfast, lunch, and dinner flavors because they pack so much pucker for your dollar. See how I just did that? Also, they make for beautiful decor while they are waiting in your weekly menu queue. Here are a few of my favorite, family-friendly lemon recipes. Note: One of these recipes requires the oven, but I grant pies an exemption from the no-oven-in-summer rule because, well, pies.

First, there are a few essential tools you should have to make your lemon life easier. A microplane is the tool for zesting lemons with ease. My friend and fellow foodie Christian gave me this as part of an apartment warming gift when I moved to Iowa and it is one of my most used kitchen tools. Also nice for finely grated fresh parmesan, but I digress. You should also get a small juicer like this one for recipes that call for more than a few lemons (like lemonade) and this one for just a lemon or so. You’re welcome.

Beverage: Fresh Lemonade

Now that you have your tools ready, let’s start with the quintessential summer beverage: Lemonade. The first time I made fresh-squeezed lemonade for my daugther, I knew I had ruined the store-bought stuff for her forever. And I consider that a mom win. I use Ina Garten’s Fresh Lemonade with a slight tweak to make it more on the tart side for our family’s preference. You can go all crazy and add the full 3/4 c. of sugar if you want…just send the kids outside to run off the sugar high! Be sure to use superfine sugar (sometimes called “baker’s sugar”)–one carton will last you the whole summer and it dissolves perfectly.

lemon recipes lemonade

Load your blender with:

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (5 to 6 lemons)
1 lemon, sliced into wedges for garnish
1/2 to 3/4 cup superfine sugar, to taste–I use closer to 1/2 c. because I like it tart!
1 cup crushed ice
4 cups water

Blend until mixture is completely smooth, then pour over ice and add a lemon wedge and serve.

Oh, and one time I accidentally added a shot of vodka to the grown-up serving and it wasn’t terrible.

Salad or Veggies with Lemon Vinaigrette

My love for lemons is rivaled only by my love of green vegetables. At some point in the summer, however, I know I will look at yet another batch of fresh green beans and sigh. And then I’ll get a wave of guilt for complaining about having readily available, local produce to feed my family. My penance for complaining about “too many” green vegetables will be to make them the star of the summer plate. I’ve found this Lemon Vinaigrette recipe to be just the light and bright trick. Yes, it’s Martha Stewart. Haters gonna hate, but the woman is still one of my go-tos for the classics. This recipe, with dijon and lemon zest, is perfect tossed with blanched green beans. Or sauteed zucchini. Or salad greens and some fresh parmesan shavings. You get the idea. Make a batch and refrigerate and you’ll never cry over plain old veggies again.

Main Dish: Linguine with Shrimp and Lemon Oil

Now to my favorite main dish. Are your kids going to overnight summer camp this year? Have a sleepover with the grandparents? The kind who are in bed by 7:00? If so, make a backyard date with your beloved and serve this lemon pasta on the back porch while you feel all romantic and European as you watch the first fireflies appear. Or, in my case, compromise and sit inside the air-conditioned house because my partner will have none of the humidity while eating dinner and we are five episodes behind with Modern Family. But the thought!

Linguine with Shrimp and Lemon Oil is creamy without being heavy (thanks to adding just a bit of the starchy pasta water) and has a multi-dimensional lemon flavor from both lemon zest and juice and a lemon-infused olive oil that is added at the end. I made the lemon-infused oil with garlic olive oil I picked up on a recent trip to Harvest Oil and Vinegar in Coralville. You guys. So good.

Side note: I have a hard time remembering to reserve some of the pasta water, which is essential to this dish achieving the creamy consistency, so I have to put a sticky note that says “SAVE SOME WATER” on my colandar so I’ll see it before I dump the pasta. You see why this is not a meal to make with little ones around? Focus, mom, focus!

Dessert: Lemon Pie

Finally, no self-respecting lemon-lover can write a blog about lemons without lemon pie. And since I am an Iowa mom blogger, I have to share a pie that I discovered while visiting an iconic Iowa tourist attraction. I tried Shaker Lemon Pie while on a visit to the American Gothic House in Eldon, IA. The site of the famous Grant Wood painting, American Gothic was also home to the Pitchfork Pie Stand for four years before the owner, Beth Howard, closed it because it got too big to sustain. Yes, we Iowans love our pie!

Long story short, you can no longer drive to Eldon to buy one of Beth’s pies (ask my husband how sad he is that I no longer ask him to go to scenic Eldon for a piece of pie), but you can buy her cookbook and recreate the classics in your own kitchen.

shaker lemon pie prep lemon recipes
Shaker Lemon Pie is for the true lemon lover. Paper-thin lemon slices mascerate in sugar overnight before mixing with eggs and baking in a flaky pie crust. Think candied lemons in flaky, buttery crust. Top with fresh whipped cream and call it a perfect summer.

Now it’s your turn: Leave a comment with your favorite way to brighten your summer menu!


Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.



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