It’s a fragrance that easily transports me… The heady aroma of lemon oil hits my nose.  I’m spiraling into a special place…  It’s the zest.  Lemon zest, to be exact, though pretty much the oils from any citrus peel will do it for me. RuBo tweets daily about the effects (benefits) of smoking tangerine zest*.

So, what is zest, anyway?  Is it an ingredient?  Is it a technique?  Is it a utensil? Here’s our first-ever compilation video treating the concept of zest.  Enjoy!

Don’t try this at home.

I used to hate to zest.  Now I live for it.

In the old days, zesting meant having to drag out that dented, rusty old box grater, dread mounting in my heart as I knew I’d also be skinning my knuckles, trying to get the treasured citrus peel off the fruit for my recipe.  Oh yes, picking out the zest from the clogged grater holes with the tip of my knife…  knowing I look like a complete idiot when I do that…  right, and then there’s that well-meaning-yet-equally-useless kitchen tip that suggests you cover the grater with a layer of parchment paper (or even more horrifically, plastic wrap) so you can “lift” up the zest from the grater … and presumably some bits of paper (or plastic) along with it.  No thanks.

But times are better now.  Now, peeling/zesting oranges (lemons, limes, tangerines… etc) is a snap.  Just make sure you’re using the right tool for the job/type of zest you need.

Why not try some for yourself?  I’ve included two of my favorite recipes.

Orange-Cinnamon Shortbread Cookies (makes about 36 cookies, depending on the size)

2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

zest of 1 orange (microplaned or minced)

3 ¼ cups all purpose flour

2-3 cookie sheets covered with parchment or foil

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 5 – 10 minutes or until the mixture is light and soft and fluffy.  Add the cinnamon and orange zest and beat for 2 minutes more to incorporate.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the flour by hand with a rubber spatula.  The dough will be soft.

Place a handful of the dough at a time on a lightly floured work surface.  Use a floured hand to press out the dough until it is about 3/8-inch thick – don’t make the dough too thin.  Cut out the shortbreads and place them on the prepared pans about 1 ½ inches apart.  They don’t spread, but they will puff up a bit during baking.

Continue until all of the dough has been rolled out and cut – you can press the scraps together and roll it out as well until all of the dough is used up.

Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes making sure they are just a very pale golden color.  Slide the parchment onto cooling racks.

Wild rice salad (serves 6-8)

1 cup wild rice

1/2 small red onion, small diced

1 stalk celery, small diced

1 small carrot, peeled and small diced

2 tablespoons julienned orange peel

½ cup dried cranberries (optional)

½ cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Rinse wild rice in a sieve under cold water, then combine with cold water to cover by 2 inches in a 5-quart pot. Simmer, covered, until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Wild rice is done when all of the seeds have split open.

Rinse the cooked wild rice in a sieve under cold water and drain. Stir together rice, onion, celery, carrot, orange zest, cranberries and pecans.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a small jar, combine the garlic, vinegar, and olive oil and shake to emulsify.    Toss dressing with rice mixture and fresh parsley.  Taste, and adjust for salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature.

Salad can be kept for 3 days, covered and refrigerated.

*Ruth Bourdain is a fictitious character celebritweet with an equally fictitious penchant for deep, dark vices.  Do not smoke tangerine zest. In fact, don’t smoke anything; unless it’s using one of these.