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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Tale of Two Salads

If all you are required to bring to your hosts’ house for Thanksgiving this year is a salad to add to the menu, consider preparing one of these beautiful versions that celebrate the most amazing flavors fall has to offer.

One serves as a hearty first-course salad; the other a nice palate-cleanser.

Remember this great vinaigrette video?  It certainly comes in handy for these salads!

*Be sure to hit the blue links to see the helpful videos we’ve made to guide you through the recipe.  As always, subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Spinach with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

Serves 4 to 6

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon stone-ground mustard

¼ teaspoon minced shallot

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

¼ teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Granny Smith Apple, diced

1 cup walnut halves, toasted

¼ cup dried cranberries

4 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and spun dry

¼ cup crumbled bleu cheese

Cook the bacon:  In a medium skillet over medium flame, cook the bacon until crispy.  Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.

Make the vinaigrette:  Pour as much of the bacon grease into a clean glass measuring cup and add additional olive oil to make up ¾ cup.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, shallot, vinegar and thyme.  Add a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Pour the oil mixture in a thin, steady stream as you whisk the vinegar mixture together.  Alternatively, you can add all of the ingredients into a jar and shake vigorously.

Assemble the salad: In a large bowl, toss together the bacon, diced apple, walnuts, dried cranberries and spinach with a drizzle of the vinaigrette. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Divide the salad evenly among the serving plates and top with the bleu cheese.

Frisee with Orange and Pomegranate and Hazelnut Vinaigrette

Serves 4 to 6

¼ cup sherry vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon minced shallot

¼ teaspoon minced thyme leaves

Kosher salt and freshy ground black pepper

½ cup hazelnut oil

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 head frisee lettuce, trimmed

2 navel oranges, segmented

½ cup pomegranate seeds

½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

Make the vinaigrette:  In a mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard, shallot, thyme and salt and pepper.  Mix together until smooth.  In a slow, steady stream, pour in the oils while whisking constantly until the vinaigrette is thickened.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the frisee, orange segments and half the pomegranate seeds.  Toss with ¼ cup of the dressing and salt and pepper.  Evenly divide the salad among the serving plates and top with the remaining pomegranate seeds and the hazelnuts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Nicoise Salad

The Nicoise Salad.

Ahi tuna Nicoise Salad

There is so much going on it might look like it’s got everything but the kitchen sink; but break that down and examine what it’s offering:  soft, sweet greens…  a meaty tuna steak (pure protein)… ripe cherry tomatoes (nature’s candy, at the peak of their season, it’s a little red garden kiss)… crunchy green beans… soft, satisfying potatoes that soak up the vinaigrette… vinegary fruity olives… creamy hard-cooked eggs… all pulled together with a vinaigrette made with the best olive oil you can afford.  This is the Salad of all salads, folks.  It’s the best of everything — all on one plate.

At the risk of making you think I’ve gone over the deep end, I believe Aristotle might have had the Nicoise Salad in mind when he said, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  It’s a marriage of the best quality ingredients and execution of technique.  If ever you wanted to improve your cooking skills, make this salad a few times this month.  Each component for this salad requires a technique.  The better you are at mastering each technique, the more amazing this salad becomes. And the best part of using this salad to practice your skills:  you get to eat your efforts!  Rip open a crusty baguette and open a bottle of wine (a dry rosé would be perfect, by the way).  Think of us when you do.  Cheers!

Nicoise Salad

Serves 2

  • prepare each ingredient separately and keep chilled in the fridge, then assemble the salad as described below in the instructions
  • We have provided a technique video for each of the components of this salad.  The complete video portfolio can be viewed on Vimeo:  http://vimeopro.com/dearmartini/nicoise-salad

½ cup vinaigrette, recipe follows

2 large handfuls of salad greens, washed and spun dry (we prefer baby romaine)

4 hard boiled eggs, chilled and peeled

1 cup haricots vert, blanched and chilled

6 small potatoes, boiled and chilled (red or Yukon Gold)

1 cup ripe cherry tomtatoes, halved

¼ cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives, pitted

1 (8-ounce) sashimi-grade Ahi tuna steak, seared and rested

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

A.  Prepare the salad components:

  1. Place a large serving dish or platter in your fridge to chill.
  2. Make a batch of vinaigrette and set aside.
  3. Prepare the salad greens keep covered in the fridge with a damp paper towel.
  4. Make the hard-cooked eggs.  Peel and chill them.
  5. Trim and blanch the haricots vert.  Drain from the ice bath and keep chilled.
  6. Boil the potatoes and toss in a separate bowl with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette.  Set aside.
  7. Halve the cherry tomatoes and set aside.
  8. To sear the tuna, heat a stainless steel pan over high flame.  As the pan is heating, generously season both sides of the tuna with salt and pepper. The pan will be heated properly when water beads as it’s sprinkled into the pan.  Let the water evaporate from the pan before adding the oil.  Drizzle in 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil and place the tuna on the pan to sear one side for 45 seconds.  Carefully lift the tuna and flip to the other side and sear for another 45 seconds on the other side.  Immediately remove the tuna from the pan onto a plate and tent with foil for 10 minutes.

B.  Assemble the salad:

  • in this composition, the sliced tuna steak will take center stage.  The rest of the components will surround the tuna around the edges of the platter.
  • Use the same bowl to toss each separate component with vinaigrette.
  1. Lightly toss the salad greens with salt, pepper and vinaigrette and arrange on the platter.
  2. Peel the hard-cooked eggs.  Cut them in half and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Lightly drizzle with a teaspoon of vinaigrette.  Arrange them on the platter.
  3. Cut the potatoes in half and toss with more vinaigrette.  Arrange them on the platter.
  4. Toss the haricots vert with salt, pepper and vinaigrette.  Arrange them on the platter.
  5. Toss the cherry tomatoes with vinaigrette and arrange them on the platter.
  6. Arrange the olives on the platter.
  7. Slice the tuna in ¼-inch slices across the grain and arrange in the center of the platter.
  8. Drizzle some more vinaigrette over the top of the salad and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
  9. Serve immediately.

C.  Vinaigrette for Nicoise Salad — ah yes, remember this one?

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/44209569″>Vinaigrette</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/dearmartini”>Dear Martini</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Makes 1 cup

¼ cup Champagne vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon or stone-ground mustard

generous pinch kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon minced shallot

2 teaspoons minced parsley

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

Add all of the ingredients into a clean jar (preferably one that is 12 – 16 ounces in capacity).  Make sure the lid is on tight and shake to combine.  Keep in the fridge until you are ready to use.

The Bacon and Egg Salad (AKA Frisée au Lardon)

Have you ever tried this salad?  It’s simplicity is what makes it so special.

We dare you to make this salad and NOT fall in love with it.  If you cook the egg properly, when the yolk runs together with the vinaigrette, the balance of the rich yolk and the vinegar is sublime.  Combine that killer yin-yang pairing with crunchy croutons, salty, crispy bacon and feathery frisée — this salad becomes something that is an experience, not just a dish.

Bacon and Egg Salad

Serves 4

Preheat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook bacon until crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Drain bacon on paper towels. Set aside.

Place prepared lettuce in a large bowl with a damp towel covering the lettuce.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

To soft boil the eggs, bring water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan over high heat. Gently lower the eggs into the water, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and cool in an ice bath.

Toss lettuce to coat lightly with vinaigrette.  Divide lettuce on individual plates and sprinkle with the cooked bacon and croutons.

Just before serving, remove the shells from the eggs.  Dip the shelled eggs back into boiling water for a few seconds to reheat and blot dry on a paper towel.  Place an egg on each salad and season the egg with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve immediately.

Cook’s Notes:  Not big on bacon?  Substitute smoked salmon for the bacon or omit.

Basic Vinaigrette

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 teaspoon finely minced shallot
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh herbs (flat-leaf parsley, chervil or chives are great choices with eggs and bacon)
  •  1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup vinegar (try a Spanish sherry vinegar or a champagne vinegar with this salad)
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the shallot, herbs, mustard, salt and pepper with the vinegar until smooth.  Continue to whisk while slowly pouring in a thin, steady stream, the olive oil.  The mixture will gradually thicken.

Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more salt and pepper if needed.  (Vinaigrette can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks)

Don’t miss out on the 4 new videos — check it out!

Aioli

What is Aioli?

Aioli is a garlicky homemade mayonnaise that comes to us via the Mediterranean.

Quick + Inexpensive  + Versatile + Big Bang Taste!

4 Reasons to Love Aioli:

  1. Quick – 2 minutes to pound the garlic + 5 to whisk &  you’re done.
  2. Inexpensive  – Made with ingredients almost everyone has on hand without making a special trip to the store so you can whip a batch on a whim.
  3. Versatile – It’s a sauce, that’s a dip, that’s a spread, that’s a condiment — you gotta love that!  Pair it with beef & lamb, fish & shellfish, potatoes and veggies, pretty much anything else except chocolate ice cream!
  4. Big Bang Taste! – Who doesn’t love a garlicky-lemony sauce?!  If you are looking for a little variety — try a tablespoon of minced basil, chives or green onions, mint, parsley or lemon zest.

The Secret

You may be thinking to yourself — “Can’t I just mix some mayo with garlic and call it aioli?” Sure you could “doctor up” store bought mayo in a pinch, but it doesn’t compare to the real deal. The secret to aioli is all in the hand whisking.  Whisking the sauce by hand creates a silky smooth mouthfeel that can’t be replicated by a machine (believe me I’ve tried!)  Watch closely in our videos for tips to help you conquer whisking.  Once you get the hang of it, it’s really quite easy to make.

Aioli
Yields 1 cup

We recommend a mellow extra-virgin olive oil or a combination of oils for best flavor.  Save your peppery Tuscan-style olive oils for another use as they tend to overwhelm aioli.

(All ingredients should be at room temperature)

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon sherry or white balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or a mix of ½ cup pure olive oil or peanut oil with a 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil for a lighter aioli)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic paste
  • Juice of a half lemon

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper until combined.

Add the oil to the beaten egg yolk, drop by drop, whisking constantly for about the first 2 tablespoons of oil until the mixture begins to thicken.  As the aioli begins to thicken, the oil can be poured a little faster in a thin steady stream.   If the mixture becomes too thick to whisk, add a little of the lemon juice or water to thin it out and continue to whisk and incorporate oil.  Stir in the lemon juice and garlic paste to suit your taste (you may not need all of it.)

Cook’s Notes:  Aioli can be stored for up to 3 days in the fridge but is better made and served the same day.  If you plan to serve aioli on a buffet or at a picnic place your bowl of aioli in a bowl of ice to keep it cool and safe.

Still Not Sure What to Pair Aioli With? How About Artichokes?

Happy 4th of July!

Mia & Terri

ALL ABOUT ASPARAGUS

We’ve all got our favorite ways to use asparagus — steamed,  sautéed, blanched, sliced, in soups, in risottos, chilled in salads, with aioli, with lemon zest, in an omelet, tossed in pasta, dipped in tempura batter and fried…

…but my hands-down favorite is:  Flash-roasted!

If you didn’t already love asparagus because it’s delicious, get ready to love it even more for what it can do for you!  Asparagus is low in calories… about 20 calories for a 3-ounce serving. Despite its low cal reputation, asparagus packs a huge punch in the nutrient-density department:  it’s a good source of vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, iron, potassium and chromium.  Not to mention it’s a great source for dietary fiber!

At the market, choose your asparagus carefully.  Asparagus is usually sold in one-pound bunches.  Make sure you select the stalks that are straight, smooth and bright green with tight, compact bud tips (mushy tips mean trouble – they’ve been sitting around too long).  Remember, the fresher the asparagus, the more nutrients it still has to offer.  Also, avoid the really thick stalks.  You might think you’re getting more value for your money by buying a bigger size, but in this case, the smaller, the better.  We prefer stems that are pencil thin to dime-sized in diameter.  Thicker stems can be tough, woody and bitter.

Two Asparagus Recipes

Blanched and Sauteed Asparagus w Lemon Zest

(serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and blanched
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • generous pinch kosher salt
  • generous pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar

Directions:

In a medium-sized saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium flame and add the blanched asparagus.  Saute until the asparagus is heated through, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Turn off the heat and toss in the lemon zest and vinegar.  Serve immediately or chilled.

Flash-Roasted Asparagus

(serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • generous pinch kosher salt
  • generous pinch freshly ground black pepper

Special Equipment:

  • Baking sheet lined with aluminum foil
  • Oven mitts

Directions:

Preheat the oven and a foil-lined baking sheet to 500℉ for about 30 minutes.  It’s best if the oven is ROCKET HOT before you begin preparing the asparagus.

Toss the asparagus in a bowl with the olive oil salt and pepper.

When the oven is sufficiently hot enough to sizzle even the smallest drop of water on the baking sheet, quickly toss the seasoned asparagus onto the baking sheet and close the oven door.  ROAST FOR 3 minutes (or until the smoke starts to set off your smoke detector.)

With the oven mitts, remove the baking sheet from the oven and roll the asparagus around.  Return to the oven and roast for another 2-4 minuts, or until the asparagus is tender.

Serve immediately.

This flash-roasting technique is great for when you’re pressed for time but still want something beautifully-cooked and delicious to go with dinner.  And this method is also great to use on green beans, baby Brussels Sprouts, radishes, zucchini and eggplants!

Vinaigrette

 

Every cook should be able to make a vinaigrette in his or her sleep.  Why?  It’s a versatile sauce that can be used on salad and veggies, works equally well on cold meat and fish dishes, and can even substitute for a marinade.  It’s a sauce that is quick and easy to make and stores well in the fridge for up to two weeks. Vinaigrette is also the sauce where you can let your creativity run wild with the possibility of dozens (hundreds) of variations once you understand the basics.

Basic Vinaigrette

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 teaspoon finely minced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh herbs
  •  1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the shallot, herbs, mustard, salt and pepper with the vinegar until smooth.  Continue to whisk while slowly pouring in a thin, steady stream, the olive oil.  The mixture will gradually thicken.

Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more salt and pepper if needed.  (Vinaigrette can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks)

What to stock your pantry with:

Aromatics

Mustard

Helps to keep the emulsion from separating.  A little goes a long way.

  • Dijon
  • Stoneground

Salt & Pepper

Now is the time to breakout that fancy salt you’ve been saving…

  • Kosher salt
  • Sea salt
  • Seasoned salt (truffle salt for example)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (our favorite  — Tellicherry peppercorns)

Herbs

Fresh herbs are the stars of vinaigrette.  It’s what sets a homemade vinaigrette apart from the store bought stuff!

Vinegars

  • Traditional balsamic or white balsamic (If you haven’t tried white balsamic you’re missing out! Think of it as the less acidic, doesn’t turn your salad muddy and dark cousin of traditional balsamic)
  • Champagne, red or white wine, sherry, cider
  • Herb infused vinegars
  • Fruit infused vinegars – raspberry, pomegranate, and mango
  • Rice vinegar – plain or sweetened
  • Distilled white vinegar best for cleaning not for vinaigrettes

Juice

Substitute a portion or all of the vinegar with juice

  • Fruit juice – pomegranate, white grape juice, guava
  • Citrus juice – lemon, lime, orange, blood orange, grapefruit, AND all citrus zest

Oils

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Canola or vegetable oil
  • Substitute ¼ cup of the extra-virgin olive with walnut, hazelnut, almond or sesame