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Friday, September 29

Gapers Block

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So we appear to have gone from Late Winter to mid-Summer in just a few weeks. I haven't even had a chance to drop my winter coat at the dry-cleaner for its end-of-season cleaning and I'm already wearing sandals. It's crazy, but I love it. Honestly, this hot and humid weather makes me very happy. Sure, I walk a little slower, I eat a lot lighter, and I feel the need to nap occasionally from the heat (we have no air-conditioning, and for the most part, we're OK with that), but I love this weather.

And if you're like me, you are more likely to be craving lighter foods to eat as well. Thankfully the farmers markets are just getting into full swing with the seasonal vegetables and fruits that are available for sale. Local lettuce is looking great, okra is crisp and ready for picking soon, rhubarb has been out for a while, and strawberries are showing their ripeness.

Strawberries always signaled the beginning of summer to me. Strawberries always seemed to ripen during the last week of school and left me running home from the bus stop so I could stop and see if any more had gotten ripe while I sweated in a stuffy classroom. I would pick what was ripe and head straight to the kitchen where my mother would cluck about how I could at least take off my school clothes before I go rummaging in the garden. But she knew how happy I was about our short-lived bounty of sweet and red fruit, so I would run to change while she would slice the strawberries, sprinkle a little sugar over them, squeeze a little lemon juice on top and store the strawberries in a bowl in the back of the refrigerator till dessert.

And that's one of my favorite ways to have strawberries — just simply sliced, sugared, and served over poundcake or ice cream. But there are so many other things one can do with strawberries. And since they're perfect right now, and since it's too hot to consider eating the buttermilk fried chicken I was planning on making this weekend, I'm happy to settle on strawberries.

Strawberries and cream go great together. It's a classic pairing and there's nothing wrong with it, but there are other options for making tasty and fresh desserts that aren't loaded down with heavy calories.

Strawberries with Sweetened Cream Cheese and Chocolate
1 pint of strawberries
6 ounces of cream cheese
3-4 tablespoons of powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 ounce of dark or milk chocolate, grated

Cut the tops off the strawberries and place them on a cutting board, top down. Cut across the strawberry through to the top, but don't cut all the way through. Make another cut in the strawberry so you have an X. Pry the 4 pieces of strawberry away from the middle so you create a cup. Place the strawberries on a plate and place them in the refrigerator to chill.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, extract and chocolate and whip until it's fluffy. Use either a piping bag with a decorative tip or a small spoon that you've dipped in hot water to place a dollop of the cream cheese mixture on the strawberry. If you wish, you can sprinkle a little more grated chocolate on top. Cover loosely and let these refrigerate for 2-4 hours before serving.

Strawberries with Basil and Balsamic Vinegar
1 pint of strawberries
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
6-8 large basil leaves cut into a chiffonade*

Rinse the strawberries and remove the tops. Cut the strawberries length-wise and then cut them into slices. Place them into a glass or ceramic bowl and sprinkle them with the sugar, balsamic vinegar and the basil. Toss to combine and let them sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or even overnight. Serve them in a pile on top of some baby spinach leaves with some pecans and blue cheese for a tasty salad, or serve this over ice cream, poundcake or shortcake for a tasty, grown-up version of the treat my mother used to make me.

*To make a chiffonade: Rinse your basil and remove the leaves from the stems. Discard the stems and place the leaves on top of each other. Starting at one long edge, roll the leaves as tightly together as you can so you have a tight roll. Use a sharp knife to make skinny slices through the roll. You should be able to fan out the slices to get lots of long, skinny strips of basil.
Makes 4 servings.

Avocado and Stawberry Salsa
1 jalapeño pepper
1/2 pint of strawberries
2 scallions
2-3 stalks of fresh cilantro
2 avocados
juice from 1 lime

Cut the pepper in half, remove the seeds, and mince the pepper and place it into a medium-sized glass or ceramic bowl. (Wear rubber gloves if you're sensitive, or wash your hands thoroughly after chopping.) Remove the tops of the strawberries and cut the strawberries into small cubes. Add to the bowl. Chop the green of the scallions finely and add to the bowl. Rinse the cilantro and remove the largest of the stems. Finely chop everything else and add it to the bowl. Cut the two avocados in half and scoop out the flesh from the skin. Chop it finely and add it to the bowl. Squeeze the lime juice over everything and then use the back of a large spoon to mash it all together. Taste before adding salt or sugar. Cover it and let it refrigerate for 2 hours before serving to let the heat permeate the mix.

Bourbonized Strawberry Cocktail
2 strawberries
1 teaspoon of sugar
4 ounces of bourbon (Maker's Mark works well)
crushed ice

Cut one of the strawberries into small cubes and place into a large pint glass or cocktail shaker. Sprinkle the sugar over top and add an ounce or so of the bourbon. Use a muddler or spoon to mash the strawberry into a pulp and to let the sugar dissolve into the bourbon. Add the rest of the bourbon and stir until well combined. Fill your Double Old Fashioned glass with crushed ice and pour the bourbon over your ice. Cut the other strawberry into slices and add to the cocktail and serve immediately.

And in case you have children, Epicurious has reprinted a May 2008 recipe from Gourmet magazine for how to make your own Strawberry Fruit Leather. I like that you can control your sugar content, and the comments suggest that you'll have to cook longer than the recipe calls for, but it seems perfectly simple and a great way to use up strawberries that might be too ripe to eat straight from the carton, but too juicy and sweet to get rid of.

Got any favorite ways to use strawberries that you would like to share with others? If so, add them in the comments. And in case you're getting hit with a glut of something from your summertime CSA, or have come across something at your local farmers market that you want a recipe idea for, leave it in the comments and I'll see what I can do to help you out.

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dan / June 13, 2008 7:18 PM

Re: "Strawberries with Sweetened Cream Cheese and Chocolate" — You can go with a little crushed graham cracker or Nilla wafer instead of the chocolate and end up with strawberry cheesecake in a berry.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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