Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Goodbye lettuce and strawberries...

For foodies and cooks and locavores, this is the high holy season, when each week may bring a new harvest from your backyard garden or farmer's market. When the new crops come in, there is great joy, but it also means saying a sad goodbye to those crops that have reached the end of their run. Despite nonstop rain and unseasonably cool temperatures, my lettuces have finally started to bolt. So I am harvesting as much as I can before what's left is inedible. Of course, the end of season lettuce is stronger and "greener"-tasting than the soft, new, sweet greens of springtime. And indeed, once it has completely bolted, you may find the lettuce distastefully bitter. But if it has just started to go, you should try to harvest what you can, wash it and store it properly in the fridge, and you might get another week or two of homegrown salads. Also, I find if you add a lot of other veggies and toppings and a particularly bold-flavored dressing, your summer salads can still be highly enjoyable.

At my house, we are really crazy about a homemade dressing that I threw together last week. In fact, it's so simple and has so few ingredients, that I'm almost embarrassed to post a "recipe" for it! My original inspiration was a wonderful housemade dressing that we always get at our favorite creperie in Montreal. At the Creperie Bretonne Ty-Breiz, if you order a large house salad, they will bring you an entire head of butter (Boston or bibb-type) lettuce propped up in a little wooden bowl. Then you and your dining companion peel off the soft leaves and drizzle them with their amazingly garlicky house dressing. Simple but simply delicious! We love it so much, that I often buy a small jar of the dressing to take home. Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I could make a nearly identical version at home by combining a couple of cups of good quality mayonnaise with enough red wine vinegar to thin it out to a desired consistency (3-4 tablespoons), adding four cloves of fresh garlic (minced), lots of freshly-ground black pepper, salt to taste, and a good pinch of sugar (up to a teaspoon perhaps--again, to taste). That's it! If you love garlic, you just have to try it. It's SO GOOD!

Sadly, we have also come to the end of having sliced strawberries on our salads, as their season is drawing to a close. Moreover, the constant rains of late have done a number on what few berries were left! So to give the local strawberries a big send-off (at least until fall when we sometimes get another small harvest), I have been doing some fine baking with the last few pints. First, I made some strawberry breads from a recipe shared with me by one of my PBGV friends, Joan. She is the moderator of our breed mailing list (PBGV-L), and I got to visit with her in person at the West Springfield dog shows earlier this month. In fact, it was she who advised us (quite wisely, as it turns out) to go to Farnham's clam shack in Essex while we were in the area. Anyway, this is a recipe that she sent me that is quite good. It says it makes one large loaf, but I got an additional two mini-loaves out of one batch of the batter.

Strawberry Bread

1 cup strawberries, sliced
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan.

Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl and mix well. Blend oil and eggs into strawberries. Add to the flour mixture. Stir in pecans, blending until dry ingredients are just moistened. Spoon into prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes
out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Turn loaf out onto rack and cool completely.

Then for my final strawberry TA-DAH over the weekend, I made a vanilla cake layered with homemade strawberry curd and iced with a strawberry-cream cheese frosting. I think I added too much strawberry puree (or maybe I didn't drain it well enough), so my frosting ended up being more like a thick glaze, but I didn't want to add extra powdered sugar and thus render it overly sweet. I was tickled, however, that the icing came out a delightful shade of ballerina pink! Overall, the cake may have been a bit on the homey (homely?)-looking side because of the loose frosting and as the strawberry curd is not a very appealing color in and of itself. But it was altogether delicious--moist cake, tangy curd filling, and creamy, sweet icing. It was a great combination of flavors and textures, and I recommend it, especially if you have a last pint or two of strawberries hanging around your fridge needing to be used up. This way, they will go out with a bang, in a tasty, celebratory fashion!

Strawberry Cake

Bake one vanilla cake (your favorite recipe or even a box mix will do in a pinch) in two layers, then cool completely and split the two layers into four. As you assemble the cake, fill between each layer with about a half cup of strawberry curd (recipe follows) spread to about an inch from the edge of the cake. After placing the final cake layer on top, frost the top and sides of the cake liberally with the strawberry cream cheese frosting below. Chill the cake thoroughly to make it easier to slice and serve. Garnish with whole, fresh strawberries.

Strawberry Curd
(Source: adapted from
Jackie Miller, "Strawberry Fools")

1 1/3 strawberries (about half a pint)
finely-grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 stick plus 1/2 tablespoon butter
4 large eggs

Wash, dry and hull strawberries, puree fruit (sieve out seeds, optional). Put puree into a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add the butter, lemon and sugar. Beat the eggs and add to the ingredients. Cook, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, stirring regularly, until the mixture thickens. Cool, then cover and chill in the fridge. Curd will keep for a couple of months if kept refrigerated.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
(Source: adapted from
Ann Byrn, The Cake Doctor )

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter (8 tablespoons), softened
3 1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup mashed, strained and drained strawberries (from about 3/4 cup hulled berries)

With the help of a mixer, blend the cream cheese and butter together until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the powdered sugar gradually, mixing on low speed until fully incorporated (start with 3 1/2 cups then add the additional 1/2 cup if needed to reach a desired spreading consistency). Then blend in the strawberry puree. Increase the mixer speed to medium for another minute or so, until frosting has lightened in texture. You may use immediately or chill to firm it up a bit first.

1 comment:

Haley said...

We'd like to invite you to participate in our July berry recipe contest. All competitors will be placed on our blogroll, and the winner will receive a fun prize! Please email me, haleyglasco@gmail.com, if you're interested. Feel free to check out our blog for more details: http://blog.keyingredient.com/2008/06/06/key-ingredient-cooks-kitchen-recipe-contest/