Compote, Cake, and Custard

A trip to the farmer’s market this morning yielded strawberries, asparagus, and rhubarb all sure signs of spring and the coming summer! I’ve been an anti-rhubarb girl for as long as I can remember, but I decided this year to give it a try. Spring is a wonderful time to try something new as fresh fruits and veggies are once again making their seasonal appearances so they are at their peak flavor.

And so, after a long work week, I decided to spend my Saturday afternoon in the kitchen. Inspired by the fresh produce, as well as several blogs I follow, I got busy.

First up was a gluten-free lemon sponge cake recipe courtesy of Cannelle et Vanille. The ingredient list was simple and I thought it would be perfect with some lightly sweetened, sliced strawberries. The end result wasn’t as lemony as I’d expected, but it is still delicious.

Next, I tackled my rhubarb, making a simple compote that I figured I could spoon over the sponge cake, eat with yogurt or vanilla pudding. I used the basic recipe from Simple Bites. While I’m not yet in love with rhubarb, I did enjoy this easy dish and I hope to try out a few other rhubarb recipes.

Finally, I decided since I didn’t have any whipping cream on hand, that a nice vanilla pudding would the perfect conclusion to my afternoon kitchen dabbling. I followed the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, though sadly I didn’t have any vanilla beans, so vanilla extract it was for me. How can you go wrong with pudding? It will be delicious with any of my other creations.

I hope you too are being inspired by fresh, spring produce.

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Baker’s Delight: Strawberry Pie

I love fresh strawberry pie. It makes me think of my mom, as I associate it with her late April birthday. I used local strawberries to make this lightly sweetened pie. I wasn’t in the mood to work on a pie crust, so I just made a coconut crust (shredded coconut and melted butter), but really, I’d recommend going to the trouble of a regular pie crust. Strawberry pie doesn’t keep fabulously well, so you’ll want to eat it within a couple days.

I have this lovely cookbook devoted solely to pies! I found this recipe in there–fresh berries are mixed in with mashed and lightly cooked berries. It’s super easy, delicious, and isn’t the deep red color of this gorgeous?

FRESH STRAWBERRY PIE
(from Pie Pie Pie by John Phillip Carroll)
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Prepare  your basic pie crust recipe for a 9-inch pie shell

1 3/4 to 2 pounds fresh strawberries, 6-8 cups, depending on berry size
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Whipped Cream

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Roll out the dough and fit it into a 9-inch pie pan. Trim and flute the edges, then bake the pie shell fully. Cool completely before filling.

Dump the berries into a colander and rinse them. Drain well, shaking to remove excess water, then remove the stems. Pick out about 1 cup of whole berries and reserve for garnish. Cut half of the remaining berries into thick slices (or leave them whole if they are small) and set aside.

Put the remaining whole berries in a medium saucepan and crush them with a potato masher. Add the cornstarch, sugar, and salt and stir until the cornstarch has dissolved completely. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils and thickens. Reduce the heat and cook gently for about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, then cool for 20-30 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times, until just faintly warm.

Stir in the sliced strawberries. Pour the mixture into the pie shell, and refrigerate for 2-3 hours, until the filling is softly set.

Before serving, prepare the whipped cream and spread it over the pie. Garnish with the whole berries.

Cook’s Note: If you want to make this gluten-free, just make a gluten-free pie crust. The pie filling is naturally gluten-free.

Additional Note: The photo above is far from my most stellar effort, but alas it was the best I could get. The coconut crust didn’t cut well, so creating a pie-shaped piece wasn’t all that easy. But, it was tasty!

Summer Recipes: Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

I love making ice cream with my counter-top Cuisinart ice cream maker. This weekend at the farmer’s market I bought lots of freshly picked local strawberries. Not only do we like to eat them, but I wanted to make fresh strawberry pie, strawberry shortcake, and strawberry ice cream while the berries are still in season. The two of us can’t possibly eat all that dessert, but it’s so rare that I get to enjoy fresh strawberry desserts!

Today I tackled the ice cream on my list. I used a recipe from the Williams-Sonoma ice cream book. It’s not super sweet, but it’s light, fresh and delicious.

STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM
(from Williams-Sonoma Collection: Ice Cream)
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2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups strawberries, stemmed and coarsely chopped

In a bowl, combine the cream and milk. Add the sugar and salt and whisk until the sugar begins to dissolve. Stir in the vanilla. Set aside, stirring occasionally, to allow the flavors to blend, about 15 minutes. Cover and refrigerate the mixture until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 8 hours.

In another bowl, using a fork or potato masher, mash half of the chopped strawberries; they should break down into small chunks. Add the remaining coarsely chopped strawberries to the bowl. Cover and refrigerate the strawberries for about 1 hour.

Pour the milk mixture into an ice-cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When nearly frozen and the consistency of thick whipped cream, add the strawberries. Churn or stir until just blended. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving.

Market Fresh: Strawberries

I’m so excited that it’s strawberry season and grill season! I combined the two into a Balsamic Grilled Chicken Strawberry Salad. This was so delicious and so summery and the colors are stunning! This will definitely make a frequent appearance on our summer menu!

CREAMY BALSAMIC GRILLED CHICKEN STRAWBERRY SALAD
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1/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. herbs de provence
1 tsp. salt
1 Tb. heavy cream
1 lb. boneless chicken breasts or chicken tenders

Combine first five ingredients. Place chicken in a bag or container and pour marinade overall. Marinate for at least 1 hour. Grill until chicken is fully cooked – juices will run clear.

Salad:
1/2 lb. baby spinach
1/2 lb. strawberries, cleaned and sliced
1/4 c. feta cheese (blue or gorgonzola would also be great!)
1/4 c. pecans, chopped

Arrange on a platter or in a salad bowl. Top with grilled chicken. Drizzle dressing over all.

Dressing:
3 Tb. olive oil
3 Tb. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. heavy cream

Combine all ingredients and shake or whisk well to combine.

Off The Shelf: May Magazines

Well, our month has not gone quite as planned so this will be a shorter review and it’s later than we intended (my fault completely!). It’s wonderful to see the spring and summer recipes featuring seasonal vegetables and fruits! Perhaps inspiration will once again return to kitchens everywhere.

FOOD NETWORK (Alaina)- This wasn’t my favorite issue of Food Network but still, they have so many recipes and so much variety. The Jumbo Maple Pecan Scone, Poppy Seed Potato Salad, Stawberry Blondies, and Sage Limeade were a few of the recipes that looked interesting and tasty! 

However, my kids are big fans of chocolate milk and it is definitely a treat. So, I decided to make the Salted Chocolate Milk. The homemade chocolate syrup could be used as a sauce for all kinds of desserts. This was rich and delicious! The salt was a wonderful addition that brought out the chocolate goodness. This totally made me feel like a kid again!

SALTED CHOCOLATE MILK
Print This Recipe

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 cups cold milk
Kosher salt

Make the chocolate syrup: Combine the sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool completely.

Spoon about 2 1/2 tablespoons of the chocolate syrup into each glass. Add 1 1/2 cups milk and a generous pinch of salt. Stir until the syrup and salt dissolve.

COOKING LIGHT – (Stephanie) I never know each month whether or not I’ll find many recipes I’m excited to try within the pages of Cooking Light. This month’s issue had several tasty sounding recipes. As I’m trying to learn to enjoy shrimp, I was pleased to find a couple new shrimp recipes: Shrimp Cobb Salad and Roasted Shrimp & Broccoli. There was also a section with assorted muffin recipes–Bacon-Cheddar Corn Muffins, Cherry-Wheat Germ Muffins, Tuscan Lemon Muffins, Pistachio-Chai Muffins–don’t those sound interesting and delicious? I also thought the Ancho Chicken Tacos with Cilantro Slaw and Avocado Cream sounded yummy.

I decided to try the Strawberry-Avocado Salsa with Cinnamon Tortilla Chips. I love fresh salsas and the flavor combination in this one intrigued me. I enjoyed this, though unfortunately forgot to buy fresh cilantro and jalapenos, so I used dried instead. If you’re looking for a quick, seasonal snack, give this easy recipe a try.

STRAWBERRY-AVOCADO SALSA WITH CINNAMON TORTILLA CHIPS
(from Cooking Light, May 2011)
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2 teaspoon canola oil
6 6-inch whole wheat flour tortillas
2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cup finely chopped, peeled ripe avocado (about 2)
1 cup finely chopped strawberries
2 Tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon minced seeded jalapeno
2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
3/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

To prepare chips, brush oil evenly over one side of each tortilla. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle evenly over oil-coated sides of tortillas. Cut each tortilla into 12 wedges; arrange wedges in a single layer on two baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes until crisp.

Combine avocado, strawberries, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, and salt; stir gently to combine. Serve with chips. 12 servings.

Just Desserts: Sour Cream Strawberry Custard

I stumbled across this recipe when flipping through a Rachael Ray magazine and jotted it down to try sometime. With a couple days off this weekend and the possibility of springier weather, I decided to give it a try. And Yum!!! Jeremy said this was better than ice cream or vanilla yogurt (both of which he is quite a fan). I say, this recipe is delicious and simple, coming together in about 15 minutes.

And, I’ll let you in on a little secret, I cut back on the sugar. I put 4 Tablespoons of sugar in the custard and 2 Tablespoons of sugar on the strawberries. I also used 1/3 cup heavy cream and 2/3 cup 1% milk in place of the half and half. And I subbed in about 1/3 cup plain yogurt in place of all sour cream. I’ve included the original recipe below, but feel free to mess around with it as it suits your needs.

This makes a perfect dessert during strawberry season. It’s elegant enough for company, but easy enough just to whip up a batch for the family. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!

SOUR CREAM STRAWBERRY CUSTARD
(from Every Day With Rachael Ray, May 2010)
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1 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (such as Knox brand)
2 1/2 Tablespoon cold water
1 cup half and half
6 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
2 cups sliced strawberries
3 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the half and half with the 6 Tablespoons of sugar, stirring until the sugar has melted. Whisk in the vanilla and the softened gelatin, then whisk in the sour cream.

Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, toss the sliced strawberries with the 3 Tablespoons of sugar and the balsamic vinegar. Cover and refrigerate.

Top the custard with the balsamic strawberries. Serves 4.

Heather’s Favorite Posts

Today it’s time for me to share some of my favorite posts from the past year. To me, favorite post means beautiful and delicious. Here the ones I chose:

Giant Strawberry Shortcake: I love this fresh turn on an old favorite that makes for an easy, elegant dessert.

Farmer’s Market: Pictures from the farmer’s market always inspire me. This post was full of such pictures.

Good to the Grain Strawberry Jam Scones: I was surprise at how delicious these barley scones were. They instantly became a favorite.

Sweet and Spicy Citrus Tilapia: This was an easy but sensational way  to cook fish.

Potato Salad: I had so much fun reviewing the potato salad cookbook that I couldn’t stop making various kinds.

King’s Cake: I had never heard of King’s Cake until this year. It was surprisingly easy and so delicious. We enjoyed it several times.

By far, the recipe that I use the most from this past year is Alaina’s Green Beans and Walnuts with Lemon Vinaigrette. I use the sauce (minus the shallots and walnuts) almost every week. I put it on green beans most frequently, but it is also good on broccoli. Everyone who tastes it loves it!

My Kitchen View

Things are blooming and growing around here! My basil plants – I have many because I love it – are thriving. We have had lots of rain and it seems that the plants are loving it.

In honor of strawberry week, I’m listing some of my favorite uses of this amazing, flavorful, and juicy fruit! As I mentioned, I really love the month of June for the delicious strawberries but I will also admit that, like Heather, I buy them throughout the summer. 

10 Favorite Uses of Strawberries (in no particular order):

1.   Strawberry Lemonade
2.   Homemade Strawberry Icecream
3.   Strawberry Shortcake
4.   Vanilla Cheesecake w/Strawberries
5.   The Red Stripes on a 4th of July Dessert
6.   A Juicy & Delicious Side Dish – in a Fruit Salad, on a Fruit Platter or alone
7.   In Salad w/Balsamic Dressing and Candied Pecans
8.   Macerated w/Balsamic Vinegar & Sugar on Vanilla Icecream
9.   Strawberry Pie
10. Dipping in Chocolate Fondue  

My older boys are turning 5 and had their birthday party (definitely a happening in my kitchen of late!). So this fruit platter was one of the pirate-themed creations. The strawberries were the first to go! 

This salad is a favorite:
Mixed Greens
Sliced Strawberries
Candied Pecans
Blue Cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste
Balsamic Vinagrette Sweetened w/Honey

Perhaps you will find inspiration to try something new with strawberries or perhaps you will share a favorite use of strawberries with us!

Market Fresh: Strawberries

Strawberries are one of the best parts of summer for me. It used to be that we were limited to the 2 or 3 weeks that they were in season locally, but now we can have them year-round. (I’m not supposed to mention that, really, since we’re meant to eat seasonally on this blog. But, I’m afraid I buy strawberries all summer long.)

Mostly I buy strawberries to make one of my favorite desserts ever: strawberry shortcake. It’s a simple dessert, and low in sugar, not to mention that it tastes so good and reminds me of my childhood.

There are so many ways to use strawberries: eaten plain, on top of cereal, frozen and in a smoothie, sliced into green salads, dipped in chocolate, and made into jam.

If you want something a little different from the ordinary strawberry shortcake, why not try one of these giant strawberry shortcakes!

GIANT STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE
(Heather)
Print this recipe

2 cups flour
1/3 cup butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk

1 pound strawberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400F. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut butter into flour mixture and work with hands until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in milk just until blended. Bring dough together and place on a floured surface. Knead 20 to 25 times. Pat dough out into a round about 3/4-inch thick and place on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake until golden brown 10-15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, slice the strawberries and mix with the granulated sugar, leaving at room temperature so they develop juice. Beat the whipping cream with the powdered sugar and refrigerate until needed.

Once shortcake is cool, carefully slice it in half with a long, serrated knife. Assemble the shortcake just before serving so it doesn’t get too soggy. Pile the strawberries onto the bottom half and then top with whipped cream. Carefully place the top half on top of the whipped cream.

Serves 6-8.

It’s always good to try something different and here’s an idea for a light, gluten-free, strawberry dessert: Balsamic Strawberries with Ricotta Cream.

BALSAMIC STRAWBERRIES WITH RICOTTA CREAM
(Food Network)
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1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons

Put the ricotta cheese, honey and vanilla extract into the small bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

In a small saucepan combine the vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally (next time I will try 1 minute as 2 minutes made the syrup go hard when it cooled). Allow to cool completely.

In a medium bowl, toss the berries with the basil and the balsamic syrup.

Divide the cream among 4 cocktail glasses, top with the berry mixture and serve.

Makes 4 small servings.

My Kitchen View

Last week, we went strawberry picking as a family. I could have been easily dissuaded – it was hot and humid – but my boys were determined. And we had such a great time! We picked 14 pounds in about 30-45 minutes. Our youngest (21 months) spent his time sneaking as many strawberries as he could; the other two picked a few but mostly enjoyed taking in all the sights and sounds of the strawberry farm. The fragrant berries were plentiful and the picking was easy.

So, we have been eating strawberries for a week and enjoying them so much – the boys cannot get enough. We’ve had them alone, in salads, with dessert, and in strawberry lemonade. Delicious! I’m a June birthday and have always loved the fact that I was born in strawberry season – I often celebrate with a strawberry dessert of some kind!

Every once in awhile I like to offer great shortcuts. So I want to recommend the vanilla bean cake mix that Trader Joe’s sells (it’s around $3 and totally worth it!). It is a.m.a.z.i.n.g. We recently had it for dessert stacked with sliced, fresh strawberries and peaches and whipped cream. It was absolutely wonderful and was easy to put together for an impressive dessert.

In other news, we’ve slowly been working on getting everything planted in our garden. I’m always excited about  the different varieties of wonderful vegetables. Our arugula is coming up and I’m looking forward to finding great new recipes for it!

And finally, we made steaks on the grill and they were excellent! We grilled them with a mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic powder and a little bit of Worcestershire sauce. I made a blue cheese butter by combining 1 stick of softened butter with 1/2 c. blue cheese – it topped 5 large steaks that fed 11 people. It added delicious flavor to the simply treated steaks. Definitely give it a try!