Strawberries Rule!: Tips For Choosing and Preparing the Better Berry

Everything you need to know about strawberries for the best strawberry desserts

From choosing the perfect strawberry, to slicing, quartering, fanning and macerating. All the techniques you need to make the best of fresh strawberries.

“Strawberries Rule!”  say 94% of all American households… but some strawberries are better than other berries.

How to Choose the Perfect Strawberry:

Ripe delicious strawberries should be sweet and enticingly perfumed.  Unlike many fruits, strawberries do not continue to ripen after harvesting.  From the moment strawberries are picked you are running the race to eat them before their demise!

How to buy the perfect strawberry | www.dearmartini.wordpress.com

  • Choose bright-red strawberries with dark green caps
  • Plump but small. Large strawberries tend to taste watery.  Giant strawberries are usually a disappointment.
  • Strawberries with no smell are a bust.  Don’t buy them!
  • Buy organic — Most of us know by now that strawberries are on the “dirty dozen” list which is a list of fruits and veggies that have high residual pesticide rates.  We would love to say that we only purchase organic fruits and veggies, but that isn’t realistic for many (including us) on a tight budget.  With strawberries it really makes a difference so we spend our dollars wisely and buy organic.  For the freshest berries we head to  the Farmer’s market.

What to avoid when buying fresh berries

Once you get the berries home they are best eaten at room temperature…the same day.  If you can’t eat them the same day, then pop them unwashed, into a container in a single layer with a dry paper towel placed on the bottom and one on top.  Allow strawberries to come to room temperature before serving for best flavor.

Strawberries ARE Wash & Dry!

Strawberries should always be rinsed and dried just before cutting.  Ignore recipes that tell you that you should never wash strawberries…  you can’t wash away their flavor! Place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water.  Spread them out to dry on paper towels with plenty of space between them to dry.  This can be done up to 3 hours before you plan to use them.
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Quarter ‘Em:

Slice ‘Em:

Fan ‘Em:

Macerate ‘Em:

One of the simplest  quick desserts is to macerate fresh strawberries — sprinkle the berries with a little sugar or honey to bring out their natural sweetness and set them aside for a couple of minutes to allow them to release their natural juices. (Watch the video to see the magic!)  Here are a couple additions to try if you want to get a little more creative:

  • A squeeze of lemon or orange juice
  • Teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar
  • A drizzle of rose water or a couple of drops of violet essence
  • Splash of red wine or your favorite liqueur
  • A couple lemon verbena leaves, basil, or mint chiffonade

Just remember to add a tiny bit at a time and taste — you’re looking to enhance and add complexity NOT loose the natural flavor.

Strawberries Aren’t Just For Shortcakes Anymore…

While we never get tired of eating fresh berries picked warm from the garden we sometimes want a little something different.  One of our new favorite techniques to prepare strawberries is to roast them!  Roasting is easy and turns the strawberries into a wonderful jammy consistency.  It’s a great way to use strawberries when you have too many (they hold up in the fridge much better than fresh berries.)  Roasting also improves their flavor if the strawberries are less than perfect.  For one of our favorite go to recipes, check out Zoë François’ lovely blog: http://www.zoebakes.com The Best Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream – roasting is the secret.

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Make-Your-Own Granola

Make Your Own Granola

Did you know that it’s inexpensive and easy to make? Did you also know that it tastes better if you make it yourself?

Our idea for granola uses whole nuts, dried fruit and as little oil as possible. We’ve been making our own granola for quite some time now. Whenever we have a handful of leftover nuts or dried fruit after a party, baking project or photo-shoot, the nuts get packed away into the freezer and are marked for a future granola-making session.

To make your own, all you need is about 90 minutes of baking time, and a basic granola recipe. If you binge-watch TV shows on Netflix like we do, you could totally make granola while catching up on The Walking Dead (…or Game of Thrones. Your choice).

Photo of Bowl of Make Your Own Granola and milk

Basic Granola

Makes 10 cups

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups a rolled oats (not the quick-cook or instant kind)
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of kosher salt,
  • 1/2 cup of maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups of a combination of any of the following ingredients: raw almonds, sliced almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
  • 3-4 cups of a combination of any dried fruit: cranberries, raisins, cherries, blueberries, apricot chunks, pineapple chunks
  • 1 cup flaked coconut, lightly toasted
  • 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 250℉. Line two baking trays with parchment paper (or foil). Mix the maple syrup with the vegetable oil and stir to combine. It may form a gelatinous mass, and that’s OK.

Close-up photo of Cinnamon and Salt for granolaIn a large bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon, a pinch of salt, 4 cups a rolled oats (not the quick-cook or instant kind), and three cups of a combination of any of the following ingredients:

Raw almonds, sliced almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds… you get the idea…

Close-up photo of nuts for Make Your Own GranolaStir the nuts and oats together with the maple syrup mixture and divide the mixture between the two prepared sheetpans. Spread in a single layer and bake in the oven for 90 minutes. We set the timer for 15 minute intervals, and stir the mixture around every time. When the oats and nuts are golden in color, it’s done. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely to room temperature.

Our extra-special ingredient: crystallized ginger bits (a little goes a long way so add only about 1/4 cup). Play with the ingredients. Your granola should have a nice balance between oats, nuts and fruit.

Close-up photo of dried fruit for Make Your Own GranolaWhen the oats are completely cooled, stir in the coconut and dried fruit mixture and transfer to airtight containers for storage.

Give one container to a friend. Pay it forward. Sharing is caring.

Broiled Grapefruit

Drunken Grapefruit

What could be better than grapefruit broiled with rum and brown sugar!

When I was a little girl my favorite Sunday brunches always included Broiled Grapefruit — “drunken grapefruit.” Mom would section the grapefruit and sprinkle them with rum and sugar. Dad would pop them under the broiler and be in charge of making sure they didn’t burn. To my young mind broiled grapefruit was the height of culinary perfection – just the right blend of sweet. sour, bitter, and my first taste of illicit rum.

sugar and spice

Broiled grapefruit are still a big hit in our house.  My only changes from the original recipe are–I prefer the complexity of brown sugar (or honey) to granulated sugar. I also like adding a pinch of cayenne to intensify the sweetness and a pinch of salt to mellow out the bitterness. The secret is all in the broiling. The heat of the broiler brings out the juices and melds all the components into a über-grapefruity, extra-juicy, deliciousness!

Broiled Grapefruit

Yield: Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 large ruby red or pink grapefruit
  • 2 tablespoons rum (optional)
The secret is all in the broiling!

The secret is all in the broiling!

  • ¼ cup light or dark brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cayenne

Directions:

Preheat the broiler and adjust your oven rack to about 4-inches from the broiler.

Cut grapefruit in half crosswise.  Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each half so they don’t wobble.

Use a paring knife to cut around each of the segments to release them from the membrane and pith.  It’s an extra step but really improves the eating experience. Sprinkle with rum.

In a small bowl, mix the sugar, salt and cayenne together.  Sprinkle the mixture over the grapefruit.

Broiled Grapefruit

I dare you not to lick the plate!

Place the grapefruit on a baking sheet and place under the broiler. Broil grapefruit until the sugar has melted, and grapefruit is bubbly and slightly brown, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Transfer broiled grapefruit to individual dishes and serve warm.