Monday, March 22, 2010

Berry wonderful!

Strawberries are here! I love the season's first offering of these sweet-but-sassy berries (which, actually, are not berries). So every time the first strawberries appear at the grocery store, I am compelled to buy them. Especially when they are running a 'buy two get a deal' thing. I then try to use the as fast as I possibly can, because I don't want to waste anything. You know the routine. Buy something on special, throw it in the bottom of the fridge.                           Two weeks later.              Digging through fridge and find special deal asparagus that you never used for anything. I know. It stinks. What I have started doing with miscellaneous produce items that I cannot seem to use in time is freeze them. This works especially well with strawberries. You hull them and throw them in a freezer Ziploc bag. They can be used for all sorts of things. Throw them in a smoothie with a banana, some honey, yogurt and a little milk. I also make jam out of them if I happen to collect enough.
Lately, though, I have been getting better at using the abundance of produce I end up with. One way is my second son, who thinks he is a garbage disposal. He loves, I mean loves strawberries. He thinks they are apples (he is only one and a half). If he sees them he starts saying, "Apples, more apples. Apples. Thank you." How can I resist? He will eat as many as I let him.
I also like to take fresh strawberries, hull and quarter them, plop on some yogurt (flavored is fine, or if you have unflavored mix it with jam or honey) and smash up some cereal like Honey Bunches of Oats on top of it. It's delicious. It is like a parfait, but in about 2 minutes. I love serving that with breakfast on our days off.
They are also great in salads with walnuts and feta. Add a raspberry vinaigrette (I like Ken's light) or balsamic dressing and you have a great start to a meal.
Well, I recently found another great addition to my strawberry repertoire. Strawberry shortcakes. I am not talking about those spongy, sweet circles you buy in the store. Real shortcakes. They are a snap to make, and filled with homemade whipped cream and fresh, ripe strawberries, I am going to be making these more often!
The shortcakes come together in food processor in a matter of moments. Just flour, salt and leavening, then add some cold butter and heavy cream. Roll them out and cut them into *heart shaped* shortcakes-so much fun! Perfect for an evening with just you and your man-or in our case, me and my men.

While they are baking in the oven, hull and quarter the strawberries and mash a few for a bit of a different texture. Whip up the cream and there you go!
I served mine after an easy dinner of pasta and salad, but it made the evening feel special and they were delicious!
You can make the shortcakes ahead, so all you have to do is fill them for a special meal. There is a lot of the shortbread leftover, so I just bake it up and use it for breakfast with some homemade blackberry jam and lots of butter...mmmm! It can't get any better than this!

Strawberry shortcakes

 3 cups cake flour, plus more as needed
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water


2 cups hulled and quartered strawberries
1 tablespoon blackberry preserves
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Whipped Cream

1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

powdered sugar for dusting

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with vegetable-oil cooking spray.
            To make the shortcakes: Sift together the flour, the 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, the baking powder, and kosher salt in a medium bowl. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the butter and pulse 3 or 4 times at 2-second intervals until the dough resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and process until the dough begins to come together, a few seconds more. It will still be crumbly at this point. Do not overwork or the shortcakes will be tough.
Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface. If the dough is sticky, sprinkle it with more flour. using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches long. Fold the left end to the middle and the right end up over the left end for for 3 layers. Roll out the dough to 3/4-inch thickness. using a 3-inch-wide heart-shaped cutter, cut into 3 individual cakes. Gather the scraps, roll out the remaining dough, and cut out 3 more hearts.
Place the shortcakes at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops lightly with the beaten egg mixture and sprinkle lightly with the 2 teaspoons granulated sugar. Bake until the shortcakes are light golden brown. 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the strawberries: Stir together the strawberries, blackberry preserves, granulated sugar, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Put 1 cup of the mixture in a small bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. Add to the strawberry mixture and set aside.
To make the whipped cream: Combine the heavy cream, sour cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of  a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until speed until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. The cream should slowly fall over forward when lifted with a whisk. Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer.
To serve, using a serrated knife, cut 2 shortcakes in half horizontally and place the bottom halves on each of the 2 plates. Top with the strawberries, dividing evenly. Add a dollop of whipped cream and top with the remaining sugar.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Muffins and bread

Breads that have squash in them are probably my favorite. I love pumpkin bread, butternut squash muffins are to die for, and zucchini bread is heaven! If you bake at all you have probably already figured out that baked goods that have pureed fruits or vegetables are unbelievably moist and have an added depth of flavor. Banana breads, applesauce muffins, sweet potato pancakes....the list goes on and on.
If you love zucchini bread, raise your hand! I know I do. And if you have never had it, and think, 'I don't like zucchini' your missing out! The only time I remember having zucchini bread was at a coffee shop where I worked as a teenager. I wouldn't try it at first, then, one day, I was very hungry. My usual cranberry-orange bread was gone, and one of my coworkers convinced me that I would really like it. So, I tried it. It was amazing! Moist and rich with just a hint of cinnamon. Mmmm, Mmmm!
I often asked people if they had the recipe. I also searched through cookbooks and had no luck. I found a few recipes on the Internet, but you know how that is. You just don't want to exert the effort for something when you are unsure of the outcome.
Then one day, I found a recipe for Zucchini Nut Muffins in a magazine. It was actually an advertisement for washed raw cane sugar. I adapted the recipe a little bit, and made the muffins. It goes together in the usual way, combine dry ingredients, then the moist ones separately and fold together. There is quite a bit of beating with the eggs, undoubtedly the reason for the breads wonderful texture. I add nuts if I have them, but we have little people who don't like walnuts in their bakery goods, so I tend to stay away from them. The same can be said for the sultanas. I am not particularly fond of raisins (see: Raindrops on roses...) and again, even though my little men eat raisins, they don't want them in their bread!

The beaten sugar and eggs create a lovely crunchy topping for the muffins. I tested them out soon after reading the article and we absolutely loved them! My only complaint is it makes quite a few and they become hard after just a day, which usually happens with freshly baked, preservative-free goodies.
Just recently I decided to just change the recipe a little further and make a loaf instead of muffins. It came out a beautiful dark brown and it was so moist and delicious. Whenever I make this I try to bake it the night before to eat for breakfast the next morning. What usually happens is everybody smells it cooking and by the time my sister, husband and little boys have a piece, its mostly gone. I no longer have a problem with staleness.

I love a warm slice soaked with butter, sitting next to my coffee...divine.

Zucchini Walnut Bread

3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark is fine)
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sultanas (golden raisins) (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, then set aside. Combine sugars and eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add oil, beating constantly 2-3 minutes. Add zucchini and vanilla and blend well. Stir in walnuts and raisins, if using. Fold in sifted dry ingredients just until batter is evenly moistened-be careful not to over mix. Spoon batter into 2 greased, non-stick loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour. Top will be a very rich, dark brown. Let stand 10 minutes, then turn out on a rack to cool.

If using a stand mixer: I just start with the eggs and sugar, and add the oil as directed. Then I follow with the dry ingredients (I don't premix them) and end with the walnuts and raisins. It turns out fine that way also.

Muffins: Preheat oven to 350. Spoon prepared batter into greased, non-stick muffin pans. Bake 25 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned. Makes about 24 muffins.

If you find yourself with an abundance of zucchini, I like to grate mine and freeze it for later use. I have seen no change in the result of the bread.

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