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Showcase the Best of This Spring’s Strawberries


Strawberries macerated in sugar and Port.

Strawberries macerated in sugar and Port.

I don’t trust too many strawberry recipes. Some pastry chefs would have you torture the poor berries until they’re no longer recognizable, while others would have you mask their flavor by drowning them in balsamic vinegar and black pepper.

The simpler, the better. That’s essential. Plus, you want to let the ingredients support the strawberries, don’t dominate them.

Here’s an easy dessert from Jean Anderson’s “The Food of Portugal” that you can make using the finest and freshest berries showcased to their maximum potential.

Strawberries in Port (Morangos em Porto)

3 pints ripe strawberries, washed, hulled and halved (if berries are very large, slice about 1/4-inch thick)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup ruby Port or fine vintage Port
4 to 5 mint sprigs

Place the strawberries in a large bowl (preferably nonmetallic), add the sugar and Port, and toss lightly. Cover and macerate in the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours. To serve, spoon berries into stemmed goblets and sprig with mint.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “The Food of Portugal” by Jean Anderson

Strawberries closeup

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Pi Day Calls for Pie


Strawerry Chocolate Truffle Pie

This story is being posted on 3/14, which is Pi Day for all those mathematical geeks who love to have pie with pi.

What is pi? For those who slept through geometry, alongside me, it is, as Wikipedia declares, “a mathematical constant that is the ratio of any Euclidean circle’s circumference to its diameter.” Its initial numbers are 3.14.

But that’s not important. What is important is what pie goes well with Pi Day?

Strawberries are in season, so I decided to try out the following, which was the first place winner of a strawberry dessert contest several years ago. The flavors are timeless, and the pie goes together quickly.

Strawberry Chocolate Truffle Pie

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 cup)
8 ounces cream cheese, cubed
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/4 cup powdered sugar plus 2 tablespoons, divided use
3 tablespoons Triple Sec or orange juice (see note)
1 baked 9-inch pie crust
1 1/2 quarts fresh strawberries, hulled
1/4 cup red currant jelly, melted (see note)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon grated orange rind
Mint leaves and orange rind strips (optional)

Combine chips, cream cheese and butter in top of a double boiler. Place over boiling water. Melt, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in 1/4 cup of powdered sugar and Triple Sec or orange juice. Spread evenly over pie crust; cool.

This pie is reminiscent of chocolate-covered strawberries.

Place strawberries stem side down over chocolate mixture. Brush berries with melted jelly. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.

Combine whipping cream, and remaining 2 tablespoons powdered sugar; beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in grated orange rind. If desired, garnish pie with orange rind strips and mint leaves. Top each serving with dollop of whipped cream.

Note: When testing this recipe, a store-bought graham cracker crust was used. Raspberry liquor was used instead of triple sec. Strawberry jam was used instead of jelly; it was not seeded, but that didn’t matter. The whipped cream covered everything up.

Makes 1 pie.

From Sandy Campbell/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.com

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Make It Easy on Yourself During Easter Brunch


Give your bacon and eggs a little something different this Easter.

Sunrise services, Easter egg hunts and family get-togethers all in quick succession can be exhausting. But planning and preparing Easter brunch don’t have to be. Most everyone loves the old standbys of scrambled eggs and bacon, but why not add to them with a quick strawberry pancake hot out of the oven or portobello mushrooms on toast with cheese melted on top?

Here are some easy recipes that you can assemble quickly and be able to enjoy your time with friends and family.

Strawberry Pancake

Mushrooms on Toast

Raspberry Lemon Pecan Muffins can be made ahead.

Plus, here are some recipes from our files, several of which you can make ahead:

Sour Cherry-Chocolate Scones

Texas Sweet Onion Pie

Smoked Salmon-stuffed Eggs

Tortitas de Huevo con Chile Verde

Frittata of Ham and Spring Vegetables

Overnight Savory French Toast

Raspberry Lemon Pecan Muffins

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It’s Time to Bite into Some Luscious Strawberries


It's strawberry time. Enjoy.

Poteet strawberries are making their way into markets around San Antonio. That can only mean one thing: the annual Poteet Strawberry Festival.

The celebration is set for April 1-3 this year at the Poteet Strawberry Festival Grounds, 9199 North St. Highway.

Country and Tejano music, rodeo performances, contests, clowns and gunslingers all are on the menu, as well as a parade through town, a fireworks display and, of course, the freshest strawberries you’ll ever bite into.

The carnival starts on March 31, but the real festival gets underway 6-10 p.m. April 1 with a free night on the grounds.

The parade will be held on the morning of April 2 with the fireworks display that evening. In between will be the strawberry judging and auction. April 3 will bring a Taste of Texas food show.

The entertainment lineup includes Pat Green, Tracy Lawrence, Buckshot Bradley and more.

For a full schedule of performances, events, ticket prices and more, click here.

And to get your taste buds geared up for the festival, here is an easy recipe for Strawberry Charlotte, which combines the best of tiramisú and panna cotta in one dish.

Strawberry Charlotte

2 tablespoons boiling water
2 teaspoons  unflavored gelatin
2 cups strawberries, plus more for garnish
4 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
16 Italian ladyfingers, broken in half to fit molds
1/2 cup orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau

Put the boiling water in a small cup, sprinkle the gelatin over the top, and stir until dissolved.

Place the strawberries and powdered sugar in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the gelatin mixture and blend to combine. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl.

Whip the cream and vanilla in a small bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Fold the cream into the strawberry purée and set aside.

To assemble, dip the ladyfingers into the liqueur one at a time to soften. Line the sides of four (1-cup) molds with the ladyfingers, placing the rounded ends down first. Brush with any remaining liqueur. Fill the sponge-lined molds with strawberry cream. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until set, about 6 hours.

To serve, run a knife around the edge of the molds and invert the charlottes onto individual serving plates. Dust with powdered sugar and garnish with strawberry slices, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

From “The Golden Book of Desserts,” edited by Anne McRae

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Strawberry Season Opens at Marburger


Let the berry picking begin at Marburger Orchard.

Cooler than average temperatures this winter and spring made this one of the latest starts ever for strawberries, according to reports from the Marburger Orchard, 559 Kuhlmann Road, outside of Fredericksburg.

But there are enough for a few pickers each day now. Large berries are on the vines, but they’ll go to the “early birds.”  According to information from Marburger, production now is 50 to 100 pounds of ripe berries per day, but that should soon increase to at least 600 to 800 pounds per day by mid-April.

Also, watch for the possibility of weekday-only discounts in the next couple of weeks.

During strawberry season, the orchard is open 9 a.m. Monday-Saturday, and at 1 p.m. Sunday. It closes at 5 p.m. or earlier, if all ripe berries have been picked. For more information, visit marburgerorchard or call (830) 997-9433.

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Ask a Foodie: What Is Vanillin?


Q. I was given some vanillin sugar recently. What is it? And how do I use it?  –Judy

A. The thought behind vanillin was to produce a powdered version of vanilla.

The food dictionary at epicurious.com says there are two types of vanillin:  “Natural vanillin is a substance intrinsic to the vanilla bean, whereas artificial vanillin is made from wood-pulp by-products.”

The artificial variety is often included in what is sold as vanillin sugar. According to the Nordic Recipe Archive, “Vanillin sugar is slightly bitter in taste. It is added to foods only in small amount (usually 1 – 2 teaspoons per a batch of batter, dough, etc. ). It should be added to custards and sauces that are cooked on stovetop no sooner than just after cooking, otherwise it will turn bitterer.”

The following is a recipe for muffins that uses vanillin sugar as a dusting powder after the muffins have been baked. You could also use it on cereal or to dust lightly other dishes to which you want an added vanilla flavor.

Strawberry Muffins

1 cup strawberries, hulled, halved
6 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/4 cups almond meal (also sold as almond flour)
1/2 cup flour
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
Vanillin sugar, to dust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-hole muffins pan.

Place strawberries on a large plate and use a potato masher to crush.

Place the egg whites and vanilla bean paste in a large bowl and whisk until just frothy. Using a coarse sieve, sift over the powdered sugar, almond meal and flour. Add the melted butter and crushed strawberries and mix with a wooden spoon until combined. Divide the mixture among prepared muffin holes and bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until muffins are golden and a skewer inserted into the centers comes out clean.

Stand in the pans for 3-4 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool. Dust with vanillin sugar before serving.

Adapted from taste.com.au.

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In Season: 3 Fresh Ways to Serve That Summer Produce


tomatoSome of us might be thinking about what to plant for our fall gardens, but the summer heat still burns on.  In August, what could be better than a cool and simple salad as the main dish or a side dish for dinner? Without further ado, here are two dishes that will cozy up quite nicely next to a grilled pork chop or chicken breast. The third recipe offers an unusual way to season and serve strawberries for dessert.

Simplest Zucchini Salad

1 clove garlic
2 small zucchini, sliced into rounds about 1/4-inch thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch of salt
Pepper, optional

Mash the garlic clove and rub it around the inside surface of a medium-sized steel bowl. Discard. Put the cut zucchini rounds into the bowl, add the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, if using. Toss the zucchini around in the oil and lemon juice until all slices are coated. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate for an hour or two, refrigerated. Take out about 30 minutes before serving, put into a serving dish. Should be served at cool room temperature.

Makes 2-3 servings.

Source: Adapted from Cooking Light

Slow-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

3 tablespoons plus 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
4 1/2 to 5 pounds medium-large ripe tomatoes (about 12 tomatoes) stemmed, but not cored
Kosher or sea salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12- by 17-inch baking sheet with foil. If you have parchment, put a sheet over the foil.  Spray or coat with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil.

Cut tomatoes in half through the equator. Arrange halves, cut side up, on the baking sheet, turning to coat the bottoms with some of the oil.  Sprinkle on each a pinch of salt and sugar, and drizzle each with a little of the balsamic vinegar.  Arrange garlic slices over the top of each half and top with a generous sprinkling of thyme.  Pour the remaining 1 cup olive oil over and around the tomato halves.

Roast tomatoes in the center of the oven until they are concentrated, dark reddish brown, with deep browning around the edges and in places on the pan, and quite collapsed. This will take about 3 hours for larger, fleshy tomatoes or longer for tomatoes that are less ripe or have a high water content. Check the tomatoes from time to time. If they appear to be cooking too quickly, turn the temperature down to 325.

Let cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes, then serve warm or at room temperature. Reserve the tomato oil (keep refrigerated for up to a week) to use on its own or in a vinaigrette. To store tomatoes, refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to a couple of months. They’ll continue to release juice during storage.

Makes 24 tomato halves.

From “Fine Cooking Annual, Volume 3”

Balsamic-Marinated Strawberries with Basil

2 pounds fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced 1/2-to 1/4-inch thick (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
8-10 medium-sized fresh basil leaves

In large bowl, gently toss strawberries with sugar and vinegar. Let sit at room temperature until the strawberries have released their juices but are not mushy, about 30 minutes.  Just before serving, stack the basil leaves on a cutting board and roll them vertically into a loose cigar shape. Using a sharp chef’s knife, very thinly slice across the roll to make a fine chiffonade of basil.

Portion the strawberries and their juices among four small bowls and scatter the basil to garnish.

Other serving suggestions:  Serve strawberries over grilled or toasted pound cake, topped with whipped cream. Layer berries with ice cream or yogurt for a parfait. Scoop strawberries over a roasted peach half. Use berries as a filling for crepes. Mash berries slightly and fold into whipped cream for a quick dessert, garnish with basil.

Makes 4 dessert servings.

From “Fine Cooking Annual, Volume 3”

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