Monday, June 27, 2011

Strawberries Are In—and They Are Fine!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I had heard all about the brutal winter and soggy spring this year, and I thought, oh no, not another growing season (or lack thereof) like 2009. So I was really surprised when, driving right past the fruit lady on my way into Little Compton because I wasn’t expecting anything¸ I glimpsed little boxes of red in my rear-view mirror. I was too tired from traveling to turn around, but when I got to Walker’s I pulled in, hoping for lettuce. There was beautiful lettuce—more about that later—but also strawberries. Walker’s own: he used to buy them from others and they were always priced too high, but apparently has decided to add some fruit to his largely vegetable-focused farm. $3.50 a pint, and gorgeous.
The modern commercial strawberry has a lot in common with the modern commercial tomato: it’s huge and red. And also tasteless, pulpy, all-core-and-no-flesh inside, fragrance-free, and generally inedible. It has a half-life of about a zillion years. It is just a red, strawberry-shaped mutant, best relegated to a centerpiece or the decorating of hats. I never buy them. And certainly don’t eat them. Just like commercial tomatoes.
So is it too much to say that this year’s strawberries are iconic? Red right through, natch. Virtually core-less. Perfectly shiny-ripe. Naturally sweet. Strawberry-scented. Juicy. Juicy enough for—strawberry shortcake.
I know I’ve made it for the blog before. But this has a few little twists, so I hope you’ll forgive the repeat. The strawberries are worth an encore.

Strawberry Shortcake with Cheese BiscuitsBiscuits ready
I had some store cheese, so decided to make cheese biscuits to pair with the berries for a kind of sweet-salty match. Serves 4.

1 ½ c flour
½ tea salt
1 T sugar
1 T b.p.
5 T cold, unsalted butter
½ c whole milkBiscuits cooling
½ c grated store cheese

1 pt local strawberries
1 cup light cream or heavy cream, preferably unhomogenized
½ tea vanilla
2 tea superfine sugar
Mint for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Sift the flour, salt, sugar, and b.p. Cut in the butter with a knife or your fingers until crumbly; do not overwork. Add the milk, blending with a fork or your hands until the dough just is almost together; add the cheese and blend until it is together but still rough; again, do not overwork. Dust the counter with flour and turn out the dough, patting and lightly folding it until it holds together, then pat it into a uniform rectangle about 1 ½” thick. Cut out biscuits with a 3” cookie cutter or glass. Gather the scraps, pat them together, and cut them out as well.
Place the biscuits on a baking sheet and let rest for about ½ hr. Brush lightly with cream or milk. Sprinkle with a little additional grated cheese. Bake 15 minutes, or until golden and crisp on the outside. Cool on a rack. I usually get about 5 high biscuits from this amount of dough, and eat one soon after they are done.
Hull and slice the strawberries into a bowl; add sugar to taste to draw out the juices and let sit for about 10 minutes.
In part because of the richness of the biscuit, these shortcakes are served a little differently—instead of with whipped cream, I pour lightly sweetened cream over it, as you know I often do with fruit desserts. You of course can whip your cream if you want, but don’t make it too sweet. Use light or heavy cream, mix it with a small amount of superfine sugar (2 teaspoons) and a little vanilla; just warm it a bit to help the sugar dissolve.
Split the biscuits, spoon some berries with their juices over the bottom halves; cover with the tops and more berries, then pour the cream generously over all. Garnish with the mint and serve.  By the way, these biscuits freeze very well. A light toasting brings them back to nearly as good as fresh out of the oven.

                                                                 Strawberry shortcake

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Leaving (Left) Nashvegas: Pushing further South(west)


Lem Mer pie I meant to send this a month ago. It’s news, capital N. It’s an explanation for all those endless drawing-down-inventory posts about cleaning out my freezer. And it is, quite possibly, motivation to get back to my blog.

I’ve left Vanderbilt, which means I’ve left Nashville (a little ‘Hurrah!’ is not out of place). Before I left I was going to blog a list of the top 10 things I won’t miss, but I couldn’t narrow it down. Besides, this is a food blog. So I decided to make a list of the top food things I would miss. This too proved really, really hard—in part related to what I won’t miss. I came up with one, maybe two things. Not exactly a list. So I’ll just tell you about the leaving part.

ethics class food 20113Leaving was fun. I had a great last semester of teaching, thanks to my uniformly wonderful students and my few sane and supportive friends. Lots of feting, drinks, dinners El superfrom both. As typical, there was food for my last classes. And as typical, I forgot to take photos, because I wasn’t specifically cooking for the blog. Fortunately, in my graduate ethics class, a few students snapped these photos with their phones. We had quite a spread, with many contributions from students. I  made cold sesame noodles, summer rolls, Asian-style pickles, and orange-scented date bars with the gorgeous medjool dates I use for date-nut bread. Students brought everything from beer cheese and pretzels to sweet rice rolls, sushi, pasta, veggies and dip, and desserts—brownies, cookies, peanut butter bars, pineapple “casserole,” a kind of crumble. We fixed ourselves plates before sitting down to watch an ethics movie, The Insider, about a whistleblower (Russell Crowe) and the journalist who works with him to reveal his story (Al Pacino). For another class, I made a lemon meringue pie and a yellow 3-layer cake with buttercream fillng and a ganache frosting. Forgot to take a picture of the cake. But really good.  chiles

Leaving implies arriving somewhere; that was fun, too. I’ve moved to Tucson to join the University of Arizona faculty. Can I tell you how happy I was to see a chile roaster at the farmer’s market selling entire bags of fresh, warm-from-the-roaster bags of roasted and peeled poblanos and red peppers, maybe 8 to a bag, for $5.00? So many locally made tortillas, including these mesquite flour tortillas? The amazing El Super, where everything “cuesta menos”?

More about all that later, because now for the really good news…for me, but also, hopefully, for you:

I’m in Little Compton!

                                                  mesquite flour tortillas