Archive for the ‘Strawberries’ Category

Variations on a Delicious but Messy Theme

Friday, June 20th, 2014

strawberriesweb

Shari’s Berries recently wrote to me (and I presume to a lot of other bloggers) to suggest that I post a recipe before next Wednesday, June 25, to celebrate National Strawberry Parfait Day.

I had never heard of this holiday. But I’m happy to celebrate!

The woman from Shari’s Berries defined a strawberry parfait as “a delicious way to showcase berries along with layers of cookies or cake all tied together with some yogurt or pudding.” As soon as I read this description it occurred to me that a dessert I had been contemplating would qualify as a parfait: Strawberry Napoleons.

As regular readers know, I am a Napoleon fan, having made Key-Lime Napoleons a couple of years ago. As strawberry season dawned last week, I decided that it might be fun to adapt that recipe with another of my favorite fruits. I thought the idea was completely original to me—until I purchased some Pepperidge Farm puff pastry and saw a recipe for the very same thing on the side of the box!

Luckily, my recipe is and was a bit different; PF was desecrating its strawberries by suggesting that the home cook use pudding mix instead of making pastry cream. No, no, no!!!

The Napoleons seemed perfect for my projected garden-party theme on this past Wednesday’s Mass Appeal television program so I decided to try making them on the air. As you can see from the video at the bottom of this post, hosts Ashley Kohl, Seth Stutman, and I experienced a few culinary mishaps.

First, we had a blender disaster while attempting to make mayonnaise for our cucumber sandwiches. (Happily, I travel with mayonnaise whenever possible.)

cukes web

Then the Napoleons had a little trouble staying together.

Luckily, Seth, Ashley, and I always have fun—and the video is worth watching for my fabulous hat alone.

That night with friends—and last night as well—I experimented with the Napoleons. First, I attempted assembling only two layers of puff pastry instead of three. That worked better in terms of staying together—but it didn’t include enough strawberries and pastry cream, and those are the stars of the show!

Next, I tried using only two layers of puff pastry but slicing the pastry horizontally so that the two layers became four thinner layers. This also seemed like a fairly doable alternative. It tilted, but it stayed together.

tilted but better web

I realized, however, that I really didn’t need much puff pastry at all to make me happy. So I made a traditional parfait in a glass (which had the advantage of holding the darn thing together!). I layered small amounts of pastry, pastry cream, and strawberries, then topped the whole thing with a little whipped cream and a whole berry. The photo below is out of focus, but you’ll get the idea.

parfaitweb

Someday I may even try just putting berries and pastry cream in a bowl with a small piece of puff pastry on the side. For now, however, I am parfait-ed out and prefer to enjoy my strawberries plain.

Here is the recipe as it was messily but deliciously assembled on camera. Feel free to try any of my variations—or to create your own!

(By the way, Shari’s Berries in no way reimbursed me for doing this post. The company just came up with a fun suggestion.)

naps web

Strawberry Napoleons (more or less)

Ingredients:

for the base:

1 sheet puff pastry (your own or frozen; I used frozen)

for the pastry cream (crème patissière):

1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 pinch salt
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla

for assembly:

a little strawberry juice (created by sugaring up a few berries and leaving them for a half hour)
confectioner’s sugar as needed
melted jam as needed (optional but helpful)
lightly whipped cream (optional)
fresh strawberries, sliced and MAYBE lightly sweetened

Instructions:

Bake the pastry according to the directions of the manufacturer. Let it cool, and transfer it onto a work surface. While it is cooling, you may make the pastry cream.

In a heavy pan, heat the milk until it is hot, but do not let it come to a boil. Combine the sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl, and stir in the milk. Beat the mixture. Return it to the pan, and stir constantly over low heat for 4 to 6 minutes until it becomes thick and smooth.

Add a bit of the warm mixture to the beaten egg yolks, and then add a bit more; then stir the egg yolks into the pastry cream. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick custard. Cool, stirring every 5 minutes or so, and then stir in the vanilla.

When the pastry cream has cooled (allow at least half an hour for this), make glaze for the top of your Napoleons by stirring a little juice into 1/4 cup of confectioner’s sugar.

If you wish to be extra decadent, fold whipped cream into the pastry cream. (I’m just fine without it myself.)

Now you are ready to assemble your Napoleons. Cut the pastry into six pieces in the long direction of its rectangle and three pieces in the wide direction to make 18 rectangles. (Cut carefully and use a sharp knife; these steps help!) Each Napoleon will have three layers.

If you want to use jam as a glue (it does help), brush a little melted jam on the top of six pieces of pastry. Dab pastry cream on top, followed by some strawberries. Add the next layer of pastry, topping it with another layer of jam (optional), cream, and berries.

Top with the last six pastry rectangles, and drizzle glaze on top. (You may also place another strawberry on the top if you wish.) If your Napoleons tend to slide apart, use a toothpick judiciously.

Serves 6.

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Liza’s Red, White, and Blue Pie

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

In her signature red, white, and blue pants, Liza cooks fennel over the campfire. (I'm working on getting THAT recipe!)

 
My friend and neighbor Liza Pyle made this festive pie for Independence Day. The recipe originally described a strawberry pie—although I don’t see why it couldn’t be used for just about ANY berry.
 
Liza’s notes appear at the bottom of the recipe pretty much as she typed them.
 
The recipe hailed long ago from Liz Simonds, a friend of Liza’s grandmother (and my honorary grandmother), Mary Parker, known to all local children as Gam. 

If you bake the crust early in the morning, you won’t have to bake anything later in the day—a definite advantage in July. 

The pie awaits the berries........

 
The Pie
 
Ingredients:
 
for the crust:
 
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (I’d use salted since Liza doesn’t specify)
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
 
for the filling:
 
1 cup cream
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 quart berries—in this case, whole or thickly cut strawberries mixed with whole blueberries
2 tablespoons currant jelly
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Use a pastry blender or knives to combine the crust ingredients. Place them in a LARGE pie plate (see notes below). Bake for 15 minutes. Watch to make sure that the crust doesn’t get more than a bit brown. Allow it to cool.
 
For the filling whip the cream and blend in the cream cheese and sugar. Place this mixture at the bottom of your pie shell. Artistically arrange the berries on top. (Liza is MUCH better being artistic than I am!)
 
Melt the jelly. While it is still warm brush it lightly over the tops of the berries. Let your pie stand, gently covered, in the fridge for several hours. Liza reports that 4 hours are ideal; at 8, the jelly starts to bleed unattractively but deliciously into the whipped cream.
 
Serves 8 to 10.
 
Liza’s Notes:
 
1) Unless you use a large and deep pan (or use a tart pan), you will have too much filling and too many berries………so you could reduce the filling and berry measurements by 1/4, or move a small amount to a smaller pan, or just use a big pan (a big tart pan….even a 13 x9 will work)!
 
2) Just blueberries are great too………. 

3) My favorite variation is to use an easy chocolate crust, made by crushing to dust in blender/processer 2/3rds of a box of Nabisco chocolate wafers and mixing it with 1/4 cup melted butter.

Pat that into a buttered big pie plate on the bottom and halfway up the sides….or use a springform pan….and bake at 375 for 8 minutes.

Strawberry Key-Lime Bars

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
I know! This looks more like a wedge than a bar. It was a corner piece…….
 
This cool and cooling dessert fulfills TWO functions on my blog today!
 
First, it represents June (just in the nick of time!) for my Twelve Cookies of Christmas series.
 
Second, it pays homage to the Mass Farmers Markets Strawberry Dessert Festival, which will run through July 4 at 50 locations throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
 
Chefs in restaurants and markets are getting creative with strawberries and donating a portion of the desserts’ revenues to the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets, which supports farmers and markets statewide. 

The closest participating restaurants are in Northampton, about an hour away from me. So I’m contributing to the festivities with a homemade (and home enjoyed) strawberry dessert.

 
The idea for this particular dessert came from the manufacturers of my go-to key-lime juice, Nellie & Joe’s.
 
I have to admit that I’m ambivalent about whipped topping (a.k.a. Cool Whip). Part of me loves the idea of eating something that resembles whipped cream (sort of) and getting by with very few calories.
 
Another part of me thinks about the ingredients and shudders. Basically, as you probably know, the stuff contains corn syrup, chemicals, and air.
 
I compromise with my principles by not eating it very often. My mother (who likes these bars very much, by the way) taught me to follow a path of moderation whenever possible.
 
Someday I may try making a key-lime pie with fresh strawberries and eschew the whipped topping.
 
In warm weather it was very handy to make this no-bake dessert, however.
 
So here are the bare bars. 

One word of warning: Be careful during the folding process not to hold anything slippery. As I was attempting to take a photo of the folding process, my little pink camera slid right in. SO FAR it appears to have survived. Luckily, the bars are pink so any staining that might have occurred is not discernible.

 
The Bars
 
Ingredients:
 
2 cups cut-up strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 smidgeon butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups crushed graham crackers or pretzels (If you choose to use the pretzels—which give the bars a nice salty crunch—be sure to crush these pesky critters in a food processor; you need to get them as fine as possible. I may actually have quit a little early!)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/ 2 cup key-lime juice
8 ounces whipped topping, cold but not frozen
 
Instructions:
 
The day before you want to make the bars combine the strawberries and sugar in a saucepan. Let them sit until they juice up (an hour will probably do).
 
Bring the strawberry mixture to a boil, and stir in the butter. Reduce the heat and simmer until the strawberries are jam-like but not completely solid, stirring from time to time. The time needed will depend on the juiciness of your strawberries and the degree of heat your stove emits on “low”; my fairly firm berries and gas stove took about half an hour.
 
Remove the mixture from the heat and stir for five minutes, breaking up pieces of strawberry if they remain. Refrigerate the mixture overnight.
 
The next day line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil. Melt the butter. Add the sugar and cracker or pretzel crumbs, and press the mixture into the pan. Set aside.
 
Beat together the strawberry mixture, condensed milk, and key-lime juice. Fold in the whipped topping. Mix thoroughly but gently.
 
Use a spatula to spread the strawberry mixture on top of the crumb crust. Cover the pan carefully (avoid hitting the top of the bars with your cover!) and freeze the mixture for 6 hours or overnight. 

Let the bars stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Makes 24 or more bars, depending on how small you slice them. 

It pains me to admit it, but my young friend Audrey looked much cuter holding the bars than I did.

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To Be Perfectly Frank: 100 Years of Frank Loesser

Monday, June 28th, 2010

 
Tomorrow will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of American composer and lyricist Frank Loesser.
 
Loesser was born on June 29, 1910, in New York City and died in 1969. He wrote or co-wrote some of our most singable songs—“On a Slow Boat to China,” “Heart and Soul,” “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” “Two Sleepy People,” “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” and about 700 others.
 
I’ve read a fair amount about Loesser, but I feel as though I don’t really know him. In books he comes across as contradictory. He rejected his family’s love of classical music yet longed to write an American opera. He was moody and quick to anger yet nurturing of his peers. He worked far too many hours yet loved parties. 

 
The man I can’t quite find in print comes across in his music as brilliant, playful, and intuitive. He knew how to structure a musical number so that it was easy to sing yet constantly surprising. And he knew how to reveal character through song.
 
His Guys and Dolls, to me the quintessential Broadway musical, illustrates this attention to character. Nathan Detroit’s passive yet sincere love for his longtime fiancée shines through “Sue Me.”
 
Sky Masterson shares his love of the city and his secret longing for connection to others in “My Time of Day.” Shy-no-more heroine Sarah lets her wild side peal in “If I Were a Bell.” And Miss Adelaide’s language and lifelong dilemma are defined in “Adelaide’s Lament.”
 
The lament exemplifies one of Loesser’s other strengths—his ability to translate colloquial conversation into music and lyrics. Miss Adelaide’s voice goes up (as mine certainly would!) whenever she gets particularly agitated contemplating her perpetually ALMOST married state: 

When they get on the train for NIAG’RA
She can hear CHURCH bells CHIME.
The COMPARTMENT is AIR CONDITIONED
And the MOOD sublime.
Then they GET OFF at SARATOGA
For the FOURTEENTH TIME!!!
A person can develop la grippe….
 

I look forward to learning more about Loesser tomorrow evening as I remain glued to the TV (well, actually, I’ll probably save some of the material for later viewing via TiVo) watching Turner Classic Movies’ salute to Loesser.
 
The lineup will include How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (1967; star Robert Morse will co-host the TCM evening!), the 2006 documentary Heart & Soul: The Music of Frank Loesser, and several other films.
 
Although there are several gems to choose from I wish one of the films were Hollywood Canteen (1944), which features Bette Davis singing (!) the first Loesser song I ever performed, “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old.”
 
I couldn’t dream of emulating La Bette’s perfect diction. On the other hand, I can of course sing rings around her.
 
I’ll also learn about Loesser as I rehearse for—you guessed it—MY OWN LOESSER CENTENNIAL TRIBUTE WITH ALICE PARKER! 

This will take place on Saturday, August 21, at the Green Emporium in Colrain, Massachusetts. (See fabulous poster below.)

 
Alice and I are still planning the program so if readers have a favorite Loesser song they should suggest it now! 
 
Meanwhile, in tribute to tomorrow’s anniversary here is a special seasonal cocktail. It’s appropriate for two reasons. First, it was invented by my friend Michael Collins, the chef at the Green Emporium.
 
Second, I MUST have something to hold in my hand when Donald Freeman and I perform “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” another song that shows off Loesser’s way of turning conversation into song.
 
“Baby” is one of Loesser’s famous overlapping songs, in which characters (in this case “The Wolf” and “The Mouse”) sing complementary music and lyrics over each other.
 
According to Loesser’s daughter Susan, the composer and his first wife Lynn Garland Loesser performed this song privately many times. She quotes her mother as saying: 

We got invited to all the best parties for years on the basis of “Baby.” It was our ticket to caviar and truffles. Parties were built around our being the closing act.

(Time Life)

 
Eventually, Loesser sold the song to MGM to be sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban in the 1948 film Neptune’s Daughter.
 
Lynn Loesser was deeply saddened, but “Baby” won her husband his only Academy Award for best song. (As time went by he managed to scoop up a couple of Tonys and a Pulitzer as well.)
 
On August 21 as Don (doing his best Ricardo Montalban impression) finishes the line, “Beautiful, please don’t hurry,” I’ll pop in with,
 
“Well, maybe just a half a drink more………….” 

Let’s all raise our glasses to an American original!

 
 
Chef Michael Collins informs me that he was inspired to create this cocktail by my late neighbor Florette, who made a mean rhubarb tea.
 
I have tried it three ways—with rum (as described below) at his restaurant, with a little Grand Marnier at home when I couldn’t find rum, and in “virgin” form with a little pink lemonade for my young friend Audrey. I like it all three ways.
 
Ingredients:
 
for the base:
 
6 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups strawberries, cut in half
1/2 lime
1 tablespoon grenadine (optional–for color; I found with really fresh fruit I didn’t necessarily need it)
 
for the cocktail:
 
1 cup cocktail base (see above)
2 ounces white rum
lime juice as needed for rimming
sugar as needed for rimming
 
Instructions:
 
Bring the water to a boil. Add the sugar and stir. When the sugar has dissolved add the fruit.
 
Reduce the heat to very low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until the fruit breaks down. Toward the end of this process add the grenadine if you are using it.
 
Allow the mixture to cool. Remove the half lime (DO NOT FORGET THIS STEP!), and place the liquid in a blender in batches. Blend it; then strain it, first through a strainer (don’t try to push the fuzz down through the holes) and then through cheesecloth.
 
Place it in a jar and keep it refrigerated until it is needed.
 
To make a cocktail (or two): Place the rum in a cocktail shaker, and add ice. Pour in the cup of cocktail base. Shake.
 
Pour a little lime juice around the rim of 1 large or 2 small glass(es), and dip it/them in sugar so that the sugar coats the rim(s). Strain the drink into the glass(es). 

The drink recipe serves 1 to 2. The base makes about 6 cups.

Audrey drank this cocktail with pink lemonade instead of rum.

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Very Berry Salad

Friday, June 18th, 2010

 
We’re lucky enough to be enjoying lovely fresh baby spinach right now in my corner of Massachusetts.
 
My mother and I have been wallowing in it! First, we purchased a bag at the new Charlemont Farmers Market from Sheila Velazquez of Pen and Plow Farm in Hawley.
 
A couple of days later we went to pick up a share at our CSA, Wilder Brook Farm in Charlemont, and we were treated to more spinach!
 
Kate and John at Wilder Brook also gave us some lovely strawberries—tiny, almost wild ones. In addition, among other veggies they handed out a root called hakurai. Hakurai is white and resembles a radish although it may be a little sweeter.
 
I decided to put together a salad featuring the spinach and some of our other goodies. I don’t believe one can ever have too many strawberries when they are in season so I used them in the vinaigrette as well as the salad.
 
The strawberry vinegar recipe I employed is from my Pudding Hollow Cookbook. Of course, I assume that everyone reading this blog either owns this lovely tome or is about to buy it! Just in case you’re waiting for a special occasion to add it to your cookbook library, I’m giving you the vinegar recipe here.
 
I haven’t specified exact measurements for the vinegar or a yield because the proportion of liquid you get from this recipe depends upon the juiciness of the berries you use—and how many you choose to use! 

Do try this salad. It’s sweet with a touch of savory. The contrasting textures of the spinach, berries, hakurai, and cheese really work together. My mother looked doubtful when I put it in front of her, then promptly ate every bite and asked for more…….

 
 
 
Ingredients:
 
for the strawberry vinegar:
 
strawberries (don’t use too many at a time or this will take forever)
enough distilled white vinegar to cover them
equal amounts of sugar and water
 
for the salad:
 
1/2 pound fresh spinach
4 small or 2 larger (more or less to taste) hakurai bulbs (use radishes if you don’t have hakurai), thinly sliced and cut in half if they seem a little big
15 to 20 tiny strawberries
crumbled feta cheese to taste
 
for the vinaigrette:
 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon strawberry vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
 
Instructions:
 
The day before you want to eat your salad (or any time up to a year before!) start the vinegar.
 
Place the berries in a non-aluminum pan (I use a porcelain dish). Cover them with the vinegar, and leave them to soak, covered, overnight. If you forget them for a day and wait 2 nights, they will still be fine.
 
The next day (or the day after that), gently strain the juice through cheesecloth. You may squeeze the berries a little, but don’t overdo; letting the juice drip out on its own is best.
 
Measure the juice. Then measure a little under 1-1/2 times as much sugar and water as juice (i.e., if you have a cup of juice, use just under 1-1/2 cups of sugar and 1-1/2 cups of water) into a saucepan.
 
Cook the sugar/water mixture until it threads. Measure the resultant sugar syrup. Add an equal quantity of berry juice to it, and boil the mixture for 10 minutes. Strain this boiled vinegar through cheesecloth, and decant it into sterlized bottles. Cork or cover. Stored in the dark, strawberry vinegar should keep its color and flavor for up to a year.
 
 
When you’re ready to make the salad, combine its ingredients in a pretty bowl.
 
Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a small jar with a tight lid. (Depending on your taste, you may want a little more or a little less dressing than I specify here, but the oil/vinegar proportion of 2 to 1 should hold.) 

Shake to combine, and toss the vinaigrette onto the salad. Serves 4 generously.


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