We knew nothing about grapes. Two summers ago, Rob and I planted a grape vine that also shares space on our pergola (that Rob built) with wisteria and trumpet vine. In this relatively short period of time, they went up and over giving our pergola, and yard, a very romantic look and shade to our patio.
I hit the jackpot: a less expensive, and high quality, alternative to the Le Creuset Round French Oven. These bad boys start at $150. and I scored mine for… (drum roll please) $30. Until the season for soups, stews and braising is here (um, no it’s August so not yet), I may indulge in my ultimate fantasy: eating a whole box of Froot Loops and Cap’n Crunch from my new and utterly fabulous RED enameled cast iron dutch oven. It’s the equivalent of taking my new shiny red sports car out for the very first time. Look for me later on the ceiling.
I started to think about and remember, strawberry wine. A few years ago, I was given a bottle of homemade strawberry wine. I never really thought about it before and had no idea what to expect. Given the talents of its maker, I had no doubts, but never dreamed it could be so good. It looked pale in color like a beaujolais, and tasted like a light, strawberry merlot. I was really surprised and loved every last drop. I would like to make it someday and give it to a select few individuals in my life to make them feel extraordinarily special.
Strawberries are a very beautiful, earthy, sexy and romantic fruit. They are the stuff of myth and legend. I love the Italian legend that states when Venus wept for Adonis, her tears fell to earth and turned into heart-shaped strawberries. The French believed they were an aphrodisiac and made sure they were served to newlyweds. What do you believe?
I happily settled for making butter, preserves and compote instead of the wine. The butter has a slightly curdled look to it (it should) and is sweet and the little jewels of strawberry burst on your tongue while you’re eating it. Wow. The preserves are quick and easy and of course there’s nothing like homemade. And the compote can be poured on just about anything. I decided to pour it on store-bought pound cake, but try pancakes or angel food cake. For the truly fearless strawberry lover and romantic: bread with the preserves, butter AND compote! Just make sure you’re not planning to drive anywhere for a while and the love of your life is close by.
For all you fearless romantics out there…
Makes about one cup
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 pound very soft unsalted butter
Puree the berries in a food processor. Add the sugar. With the machine on, gradually add the butter in bits. Whiz until well blended – about 30 seconds. The mixture looks curdled at first, but will pull together. Pack into a crock or jar and chill until ready to serve. If you’re feeling fancy-shmancy, put it into a pastry bag with a star tip and pipe rosettes (or blobs) onto a large plate covered with plastic wrap and chill.
Before you do anything, you need sterilized jars. Use either jars straight from the dishwasher while still warm or fill them 1/4 full with water and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Drain and use while still warm.
Makes 3, 8 ounce jars
- 3 1/2 cups whole strawberries, hulled
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Stick a saucer into the freezer. Put all the ingredients into a wide saucepan, over low heat, and stir with a wooden spoon to make sure all the fruit is coated. Continue stirring occasionally and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 5-8 minutes and start testing by taking the pan off the heat and dropping a teaspoon onto the saucer from the freezer. Let it cool a bit and if the preserves wrinkle when you push it with your finger, it’s ready. When you’ve reached this point, leave it in the pan to cool for 20 minutes before pouring into cleaned, prepared jars.
Makes about 3 cups
- 2 pints strawberries rinsed, hulled and sliced
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup strained orange juice
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (grand marnier or triple sec)
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Over low heat, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Cool then refrigerate, covered, until needed.
And let’s not forget Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries: dip whole, perfect ripe strawberries into melted bittersweet chocolate. Set on waxed paper to dry.
Credits: The Frog Commissary Cookbook, Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, Nick Malgieri’s How to Bake and Susan Branch’s The Summer Book.
I saw a hummingbird this morning. The hummingbirds are back which of course made me think of Bird Bars. Let me explain. A few years ago, I tasted a KIND Almond & Apricot bar and was transported. It was everything I wanted in a snack: lightly sweet, chewy fruit and nutty crunch. It tasted exactly like the almonds, apricots, honey and coconut in its grand total of only 8 ingredients. My first thought was, “I can make this”! And I was off on my next recipe quest.
Maybe it’s the heat. The temperature has been in the mid to high 90’s here in the South Jersey ‘burbs with that haze that makes me rub my eyes thinking there’s a film over them. There’s not. There’s a heat film over everything I’m looking at. I’m not complaining since it is summer and that means our garden groweth. I have two large barrel containers with herbs that are now big and green and bushy. They require no effort but water which is a major bonus and a few times a week they get a nice trimming. I find myself headed to my kitchen with a big basketful for pesto a.k.a., Lawnmower Sauce. There’s quite a homey sense of satisfaction I get plucking handfuls of green, throwing it into the food processor with a few other ingredients and ta da! By the way, I can also get that same satisfaction from store bought herbs when growing season has come and gone.