Sometimes pictures really are worth a thousand words and while our photography can leave something to be desired, this photo of a bowl of fresh, local, perfectly ripe strawberries says summer in a way that nothing except perhaps corn or tomatoes does. Who needs sugar or shortcake when the strawberry looks like this?
Janet here: My friend, Susan, and I have had many adventures, including a memorable book club meeting in a snow storm involving a tree limb and a car caught in a snow drift, a story that I and the others involved have promised to bring up at Susan’s funeral, assuming one of us is left to tell the tale. Trust me; it’s a good one.
But one of the ways we have shared life together is through food: wonderful meals in each other’s homes, a fateful night involving a microwave and a can of beefaroni, and the unexpected meal dropped off in various times of duress. When Susan’s mother was in the hospital, I dropped off a dinner; when I was larger than any pregnant woman should ever be with our last child who was also two weeks overdue, ie I was insane (he came out 11 pounds, 3 ounces and 23.5 inches long, completely vindicating my bitchiness the entire last trimester), she stopped by with a wonderful crabmeat casserole; and most recently this past week, when she and her family were in the throes of the kind of stuff that happens to every family from time to time.
Providing an instant dinner for someone who is struggling is one of life’s great gifts. There is something so wonderful about coming home from wherever — hospital, funeral, fill-in-the-blank — and realizing all you have to do to put a meal on the table is heat up whatever wonderful thing arrived in your absence. Life may suck, but someone cared enough to make it suck just a teeny bit less.
I dropped off a casserole and cookies — who doesn’t feel better after a homemade cookie? — and this wonderful summer fruit bread pudding inspired by the Barefoot Contessa. Fresh fruit, sugar and bread — what could be easier?
Summer Fruit Bread Pudding
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 pints fresh raspberries
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 loaf brioche or egg bread or challah bread
Combine the strawberries, sugar and 1/4 cup water in a pot. Cook uncovered over medium low heat for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the raspberries and all the blueberries and cook, stirring occasionally, until simmering. Simmer for about one minute. Remove from heat and add the remaining raspberries.
Slice the bread into 1/2-inch thick slices. Remove the crust. In the bottom of a circular dish that is about 7 inches in diameter and about 3 inches high (or you could probably improvise in a square dish that’s about 8 inches square), ladle about 1/3 third of the berry mixture. Then arrange the slices of bread to fill out the square. Pour more berry mixture over this row. Add another row of bread. (You can cut the bread into whatever size to better have it fit the pan you’re using.) Add more berry mixture, the last row of bread and the rest of the berry mixture.
Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the top. Find a plate about the size of the dish. Place on top. Place a can on top to weight it down and refrigerate. Remove the weight after 6 to 8 hours. Keep covered in the fridge overnight.
Just before serving, run a knife around the edge of the pudding. Put a plate on top and turn the whole thing upside down so the pudding lands on the plate. Serve with homemade whipped cream.
In a week of horror and concern about Japan and the havoc there that will/is being felt around the world, it’s hard to know what to say in general. And then a small moment at Trader Joe’s on the East Coast when I walked in and saw strawberries that actually looked ripe and for just one moment, the world was filled with hope, with possibility, with tomorrow. Sometimes it really is the little things. Happy Spring!
–Janet and Rachel
Janet here: I don’t remember exactly when I personally fell in love with smoothies, but I remember clearly my Mom Moment when I realized I could get nutrition into my small children by pureeing stuff in a blender and serving it as if it was a milkshake. Hello!
Anytime my children said they didn’t want any fruit, I would casually ask if they would like a smoothie, and then smile behind their backs as they said an enthusiastic “Yes!” Mission accomplished. Added bonus? It’s a way to use up fruit that’s on the edge of going bad.
I know there are a ton of recipes out there for smoothies, but I see smoothies as the perfect place to experiment. I’ve put everything from blueberries and bananas to strawberries, nectarines, peaches and prunes into smoothies and have yet to make a bad one. Consider the recipe below a guideline for your own smoothie journey. What’s your favorite smoothie combination?
Strawberry Banana Smoothie
yields three tall glasses
1 cup vanilla yogurt (you can use plain too if you’re trying to avoid all sugar)
1/3-1/2 cup orange juice (this prevents it from being too thick; you can use any kind of juice from cranberry to apple and others)
4-5 ice cubes (these make the smoothie cold like a milkshake)
1 cup diced berries (in this case strawberries)
1 banana (helps to thicken; I add this to most smoothies for this reason)
dash of flaxseed if you want to add a little surprise fiber
Add them all to a blender and puree. You might have to stop it and stir things around and then puree again to make sure you get all the ingredients. Pour and enjoy!
Janet here: Sometimes the inspiration for a post is the food. This time I was inspired by these cute Polish pottery ramekins that I recently bought. I HAD to find something to make for them and I had to find it FAST.
Anyway, as the first photo shows, I went with a fruit crumble. I’m not sure what the difference is between a crumble and a crisp — if any of you know please fill us in — but I do know they are both deliciously wonderful because they feature cooked fruit combos and the wonderfulness of oats and crispy brown sugar. While people often think of these desserts in the fall in the Northeast when apples are plentiful, really any time of year is crumble/crisp season precisely because the fruit doesn’t have to be perfect because you bake it. I chose pears and blueberries for this particular mix, but you can do peaches and blueberries, peaches and raspberries — the possibilities are really endless. Serve them warm and get ready to listen to the oohs and aahs.
Pear and Blueberry Crumble
fills 8 ramekins or 1 baking pan
4 ripe pears
1 pint of blueberries
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick butter, diced
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut up the pears into wedges. Mix with the rest of the fruit ingredients. Let sit for five minutes
In a separate bowl mix the other ingredients together. I just do this with my hands because I don’t have a food processor, but if you have one, obviously your life will be easier.
Bake 45 minutes until top is brown and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Rachel here: So, I didn’t bake with my fruit. Nope, no oven was turned on in my kitchen (at least, not for this post). Instead, I just whipped some heavy cream, sliced some strawberries and indulged in one of my favorite combinations of all time. There are few things so simple as strawberries and whipped cream and, with strawberries galore in our neck of the woods these days, I just couldn’t resist. It felt so fantastically summery and the perfect amount of indulgent. I have to say, though, that now I find myself wanting some fruit crisp…or is it crumble?
Rachel here: Before I go any further, I just have to say that while I’m quite pleased with my shortcake, when my mom said she was going to make my Grandy’s cheesecake, I instantly shifted cravings towards her recipe. When I want cheesecake, THIS is what I want (as opposed to what I usually end up trying to satisfy the craving with…not to knock everybody else in the entire world’s cheesecake…but seriously, this stuff is to die for) and, though I obviously could’ve gotten the recipe at any point during the last several years, I got really excited to finally lay my hands on it. I feel like I’m going to have to make it myself asap to deal with the nagging hankering I’ve developed.
But anyway, back to my recipe. John and I can do some serious damage to shortcake. One of the perks of living in California–and the Bay Area in particular–is that there are berries here virtually year round. When you combine this with a local grocery store (I know I’ve told you all about the Berkeley Bowl before…) that stocks locally-made baked goods, we could probably eat shortcake until we burst. It’s almost cruel that Berkeley Bowl stocks freshly made shortcakes next to the berries. But I digress…
From time to time (when I’m trying to stave off a dessert deluge), I make the shortcakes myself. Per usual, I use a recipe from The Best Recipe by Cook’s Illustrated (I adapted it ever so slightly) and, per usual, it doesn’t disappoint. You could use any type of fruit you wanted following the recipe for the fruit topping and, of course, a dollop of whipped cream never hurt anybody either.
2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for work space
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tspn. salt
5 T. sugar
8 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. plus 1 T. half-and-half or milk
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
With rack on lower-middle position, preheat oven to 425 degrees. In your food processor (or not…I made this recipe pre-owning a food processor without any issue), mix flour, baking powder, salt and 3 T. of sugar. Scatter butter pieces over the mixture, tossing to coat. Cut butter into dry ingredients (if making by hand use a pastry cutter or two knives) and continue cutting until the butter bits are no longer than small peas. In a medium bowl, combine your beaten egg and milk. Add the flour mixture and combine with a rubber spatula until large clumps form. Turn onto floured work surface and knead just until it all comes together. Pat the dough with your fingertips into a 9″ by 16″ rectangle (about 3/4-inch thick). Be sure not to overwork the dough. Using a cutter about 2 3/4 “, cut into 6 biscuits (I used a heart-shaped cookie cutter instead of the traditional biscuit cutter). Place on cookie tray 1 inch apart and brush tops with egg white. Sprinkle with sugar (I used demarara). Bake until golden brown, roughly 13 minutes.
3 c. raspberries
5 c. strawberries, sliced
3-6 T. demarara sugar
In a medium bowl, mash the raspberries. Add the strawberries and mix. Add sugar to taste. Let macerate for at least 30 minutes, although the longer the better.
Janet here: I have been jonesing for cheesecake. I had dinner with a friend last week and all I was hoping/thinking was that the restaurant had cheesecake for dessert. They didn’t. I had to settle for key lime pie — which was tasty but not the same thing.
Not surprisingly, then, when Rachel said she was making strawberry shortcake for this week’s blog dessert, I ignored the whole concept and said I was going to make this cream cheese pie that my mom used to make. Who cares if they’re not tied together by a fruit theme or whatever? I had a food itch and I had to satisfy it. Trust me: If you want/need a cheesecake fix, this recipe, which is way faster, will satisfy you in spades. Enjoy.
Cream Cheese Pie
1 1/4 cup graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cups melted butter
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla, used 1/2 teaspoon at a time
1 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix the graham cracker bits and butter together until blended. Pat into an 8-9 inch pie crust.
Mix the cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and eggs together with an electric beater. Pour into the crust.
Bake for 30 minutes. While baking mix together the sour cream, 4 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Spread over the top of the pie and cook an additional 10 minutes. Let cool.
Janet here: We are not a family of cake eaters. Did that start because I’m not a cake eater and never made them, the same way we never had soda in our house growing up so I never developed a taste for soda? Who knows, but whatever the reason, we have homemade ice cream cakes for birthdays… and they barely last a day.
I’m not sure where I got the idea to make an ice cream cake (or perhaps more accurately, an ice cream pie) but once I did, the path was set. The way it works, each birthday person can pick the kind of ice cream and whatever mix-in they want smushed in. Depending on the birthday child, it’s been anything from M&Ms to Reeses Peanut Butter Cups to Heathbars (and sometimes all of them). This recipe is absurdly easy (and fun to lick the bowl afterwards). Hope you enjoy!
Homemade Ice Cream Cake
20 oreo cookies, smashed
20 (give or take) small Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, smashed (or whatever you choose)
2 pints of ice cream (coffee is a favorite at our house but again the choice is up to you)
Put the ice cream out to soften.
While it softens, mash the oreo cookies in a bowl. I use a pestle but a covered hammer could work too.
Place the cookie “crust” in an 8 or 9 inch pie pan, making it level. Make sure there is enough for the sides. (You can always add more mashed cookies if you need more.
Mash the smush-in of choice in the same bowl. When you’ve got enough, add the softened ice cream and mix up some more. Spread into the pie pan and put it in the freezer for at least an hour. (It will be hard to wait but worth it.) Serve it up!
Rachel here: So, as evidenced by my mom’s cake, ice cream was the theme for this post and, as evidenced by the fact that the picture right above these words is a picture of sorbet, I strayed. Oops! I’m pretty sure my mom’s used to my, shall we say, interpretations of guidelines at this point. But anyway…
The reason I made sorbet was that, well, I wanted to. I keep getting really excited at the grocery store when I see California berries at a reasonable price in the middle of winter and, though I could have made ice cream with them, sorbet seemed to honor their magnificence just a bit better since the fruit stands on its own more (don’t get me wrong, though, I adore ice cream). For the last few weeks I’ve noticed gold raspberries and I’ve been meaning to try them and so I picked some up (along with some red raspberries and some strawberries…I wasn’t kidding when I said I keep getting really excited at the grocery store) and embarked on my very first sorbet making adventure. You can follow me along this delicious path using the recipe below and substituting whatever is local and fresh in your produce department.
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. water
juice from one small lime
3 c. gold raspberries
3/4 c. red raspberries
1/4 c. sliced strawberries
Make a simple syrup with the sugar, water and lime juice. Don’t know what simple syrup is? It’s a syrup that is quite simply made by heating the sugar and water (and, in this case, the lime juice) over the stove until the sugar dissolves. Mmmm…
Place in fridge or freezer until quite cold (but not frozen).
In a food processor, break down your berries until smooth. I’ve heard that some people like to then strain the seeds out of this berry concoction, but I like evidence of the fresh fruit I’ve used so I left them in. If you don’t have a food processor, I am going to post a little alternate recipe below that should turn out just fine. Back to this version, though…
Place the berries in the fridge and chill until quite cold.
Combine berries and syrup in a pourable container. Set up your ice cream maker/attachment (don’t have one? No big deal with sorbet. Just put your well mixed berries and syrup in the freezer, checking on it every 15 minutes or so and fluffing it up so you don’t get ice crystals until it’s a good texture for you) and let it work its magic. Put your sorbet in an airtight container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.
So, you don’t have a food processor. It’s ok, I didn’t always. I got one this summer when John and I got officially hitched. It’s awesome and sort of like having a kitchen b*tch, but I’m sure I don’t need to rub your face in its wonders. So, what you should do instead is take half of your simple syrup and combine it with 1/2 c. lemon juice. This should taste like sweet lemonade. Now just mash or chop up your berries and mix them into this. Everything else you need to know from here it posted in the main recipe above. Enjoy!
Janet here: We’re kicking off this week’s blogs with, appropriately, a breakfast item. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, why not make it something just a little special? I’ve been eating yogurt — usually Dannon‘s coffee flavor, although Stoneyfield‘s organic non-fat yogurt has been a staple since I did Weight Watchers — for decades. My husband and son S, meanwhile, are cereal eaters. All kinds of boring, don’t you think? And that’s the joy of muffins. Bake up a batch on the weekend, and you have instantly made breakfast a cheerier meal for the rest of the week.
Muffins’ ability to bring cheer hit home with me last year after my mother-in-law died. My father-in-law was understandably bereft losing his help and soul mate after 56 years of marriage. She was also a good cook so the loss was a double whammy for a man who enjoys a good meal. So I started making these muffins. I made them week after week after week — so regularly, in fact, that he started calling me the Muffin Queen. We all got just a bit tired of them, but he didn’t and so I kept baking, bringing just a bit of sunshine to a life that was all shades of gray.
This particular recipe is from one of my favorite culinary ladies, Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa. I have five of her cookbooks and I refer to them all the time. (Indeed there will be another recipe of hers featured later this week; stay tuned.) This one for triple berry muffins is from The Barefoot Contessa at Home. I amended it to just use blueberries and raspberries; I’m pretty sure Ina would approve. I also make my muffins in large tins rather than the regular size. Why scrimp when muffins are so special?
Triple Berry Muffins
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon (the ingredient that really gives these pizazz I think)
1 1/4 cups milk
2 extra large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 cup diced fresh strawberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pan with liners.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in large bowl. (FYI, I don’t sift. Ever.)Stir with your hand to make sure ingredients are combined. In another bowl combine milk, eggs and butter. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, pour wet ingredients into the well and stir until just combined. There will be some lumps; don’t overmix the batter. Add the fruit and sugar and combine gently.
Use a 2 1/4 ice cream scoop to spoon the batter into the liners. Bake 20-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean and the tops are brown.
Rachel here: So, my partner and I are in the process of moving. We have the good fortune of having two apartments this month and, with that luck, the accompanying difficulty of remembering what is where at any given moment. Seriously, the only thing I own whose location I am positive of these days is my bed. Anyway, needless to say, this created some err….fun…baking escapades this morning.
The plan was to spend the day at the new apartment, unpacking what we could and generally getting things going in the new space. So, after our coffee this morning, I dutifully packed up my cookbook, butter, a spatula, and other muffin making necessities, checking items off of the list I’d developed in my head. No sooner had I preheated the oven (oh, and what an oven it is…it’s an O’Keefe and Merrit a la photo number 6) then I realized I had brought no measuring spoons NOR did I have a single spoon in the house, I had fewer muffin/cupcake paper wrappers than I needed AND I had neglected to bring the paddle to my KitchenAid mixer. Grrr…
My partner was adamant I could still pull these muffins off. This optimism irritated me until I decided that, if not, it would at least make a good story and, most likely, a pretty yummy mess. And so, instead of creaming my butter and sugar into a wonderfully fluffy goo, I threw them in my Cuisinart (which, of course, I only had the sharp metal blade with me for) and turned them (along with the eggs, banana and yogurt…which I also didn’t bring enough of) into an unpromising liquid. At this point I had strayed so far from the recipe’s orders that I was convinced there was no way in hell these muffins wouldn’t come out like little boulders. Instead, in some freak incident I’m sure (because if not following the rules always works this well than my entire world will be turned upside down), my muffins came out just fine. WEIRD. OK, they’re not wonderful, but they are completely edible and definitely still better than their store-bought counterparts. Could they be fluffier? Absolutely. Will they all be eaten? Without a doubt.
The moral of my story is, I suppose, twofold: First, just because your partner thinks something can still work out doesn’t mean he is trying to ruin your life with his optimism or that your general propensity toward skepticism need be re-evaluated; second, evidently muffins (and baking in general?!?) might not be the finicky princesses I had figured they were beforehand. Anyway, follow this recipe from The Best Recipe (I added some strawberries to the banana walnut variation) or just mix all of these ingredients together and cross your fingers. Either way, I’m pretty sure your breakfast tomorrow morning will be a little bit brighter.
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tspn. baking soda
1/2 tspn. salt (*Note: I always lean towards the generous side with salt during baking. I swear it brings out flavors.)
1/2 tspn. nutmeg
10 T. unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. plain low-fat yogurt
1 c. light brown sugar
1 1/2 c. finely diced banana
1/2 c. strawberries
3/4 c. walnuts
Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in middle position. Whisk flour, baking powder, soda, salt and nutmeg in bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one. Add half of dry ingredients and incorporate. Beat in 1/3 of the yogurt. Continue alternating dries and yogurt until everything is incorporated. Fold in bananas, strawberries and walnuts.
Now, according to the official recipe you should scoop your batter into greased muffin tins. I used little cupcake paper wrappers, though, to cut down on clean-up (on account of the move). While the sides don’t get quite as well cooked, I personally feel like there’s nothing wrong with this approach. If I were making them for an event I wouldn’t use the paper wrappers, but when it’s just for home, the time I save on clean-up is worth the compromise to me! Anyway, enjoy!