02/13/2015 01:40 EST | Updated 04/15/2015 05:59 EDT

'Pucker' up: Cookbook highlights versatility and zest of citrus fruit

TORONTO - Gwendolyn Richards loves to give food the "pucker" treatment.

She is the author of "Pucker: A Cookbook for Citrus Lovers," in which she explores the sour taste of lemons, limes and grapefruits. But lest one think that lemon tarts or key lime pie are the focus, her 92 recipes run the gamut from a variety of cocktails and soups to tangy salads and main courses along with plenty of sublime desserts.

"I was always the girl that picked the lemon dessert over the chocolate one," she says.

The Calgary Herald staffer started out at the newspaper doing crime reporting and launched her blog about cooking, baking and eating — Patent and the Pantry — as a creative outlet. When she had the chance to change her beat to food four years ago, she jumped at it.

Her columns frequently have been geared toward lemon and when she decided to write a book she naturally gravitated toward the fruit.

"I did want it to be more than just lemons," she said during a visit to Toronto. "Originally it was going to be all citrus and then I realized I kind of hate oranges and I didn't want to recipe develop for oranges, so I'm writing the pitch (to the publisher) and I thought, 'I really just like the ones that make you pucker.'"

She shot the photos and developed all the recipes, except one given to her by culinary food personality and author Elizabeth Baird, two from Calgary food writer Julie Van Rosendaal and two from local chefs. Pastry chef Anna Olson wrote the foreword to the book, published by Whitecap.

The flavours of lemons, limes and grapefruits can be used in menu items any time of year.

"What I like about citrus is in the depths of winter when you're having all these rich comfort food dishes you can actually add a bit and it just lightens it up, but then in the summer citrus is refreshing, so it's a very multi-seasonal all-purpose ingredient," Richards notes.

Her Moroccan Chicken Stew is fragrant and flavourful with cinnamon, caramelized onions and preserved lemons, which are cured with salt and often used in cuisine of that region.

During recipe development, she nailed the simple flavourful Thai soup Tom Kha Gai on the first try, but it took seven attempts until she was happy with the amount of lime and the texture of Sour Cream Blackberry-Lime Muffins.

Banh Mi Burgers are enlivened with a spicy lime mayo. Chewy Lemon Cookies is one of the most popular recipes on her blog and also is in the cookbook.

Goat cheese with olive oil infused with herbs and spices was a family tradition on Christmas Eve. She "puckered" it by adding lemon.

Richards says the biggest mistake people make when zesting, or removing the coloured part of the skin, is to go too deep and include the pith, or white part, as it is "incredibly bitter."

And don't underestimate the power of zest.

"There is actually a ton of flavour, perhaps even more than the juice, so if you're looking to zip something up definitely go for the zest but just a little bit at a time," advises Richards, who recommends a microplane zester.

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