Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Heaven Is a Place Where Strawberries Grow
What’s cooking? Frozen Strawberry Yogurt and Spiced Strawberry Preserves

When I was four years old, my family was uprooted from San Antonio and plopped down in Sacramento, California, courtesy of the Korean War. My dad had been a pilot in WWII, and I guess they were desperate for pilots in Korea, so off we went. I don’t remember much about that year – it was only one year, during which my brother was born – but I have a completely clear memory of the huge strawberry field that began at the edge of our back yard. I remember picking those strawberries – the bright red color, the dimpled surface, the unmistakable mix of sugar and grassiness in the scent, the watery sweetness of the flesh, and the crunch of the tiny seeds. Ever since then, I’ve had a deep-seated fondness for the fruit, especially when it’s ripe and fresh from the fields.

As an adult, I tried growing them in our yard when we lived in the New Jersey suburbs, and while they didn’t seem unhappy, our property wasn’t sunny enough for them to bear fruit. When my husband and I moved to Texas five years ago, I bought a couple of strawberry plants for my uber-sunny kitchen garden. Still no fruit. But I liked the look of the greenery, and I had hopes. And the plants were hardy enough to make it through the winter. Thus it developed that this year, by some miracle, a few berries showed up. I was thrilled as I waited for them to ripen, and even caught a couple on camera. But it seems that the squirrels were watching as closely as I, and the number of berries that made it into the kitchen could be counted on one hand. Very sad.

Then we headed north to New Jersey for the summer. As I wandered through my favorite farmers’ market last week, I caught a scent. Could it be? I quickened my pace, and, sure enough, one of the farmstands that specialize in fruit had a huge display of them. I bought four quarts. And this past Sunday, I bought four more. I’ve added them to my yogurt for breakfast, put them into salads, made frozen strawberry yogurt and strawberry jam, eaten them with a bit of cream and sugar, and nibbled on them plain. This week, I also spotted rhubarb, so now I’ll be making strawberry-rhubarb sorbet. Watch for that in a later post.

In the meantime, here are the two recipes I’ve made: a creamy, very-berry frozen yogurt with a color so clear and bright you want to slather it all over your body; and a balsamic-and-peppercorn laced version of strawberry preserves that’s so good with goat cheese it will have your guests sneaking back into your house to steal the leftovers. Neither of these recipes is labor-intensive, so you have time to kick back and enjoy the summer.

For the frozen yogurt recipe – and for any recipe I have that uses yogurt – I prefer Greek yogurt. For starters, it’s strained extensively, which removes more of the whey and makes the result thicker and creamier. Moreover, Greek yogurt has twice the protein, half the sugar, and half the salt of regular yogurt. Go Greek!

Frozen Strawberry Yogurt

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop

Makes about 1 quart.

1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced
⅔ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vodka or kirsch or other favorite liqueur (I used Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt plus ¼ cup heavy cream, OR 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt (I don’t have many other uses for whole-milk yogurt, and it’s fairly high in fat, so I prefer to use non-fat yogurt and heavy cream)

In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, and vodka or liqueur. Let sit for an hour, stirring occasionally.

In a blender, purée the strawberry mix with the lemon juice, yogurt, and cream, until very smooth (about 1 minute). Chill for at least an hour, then process according to your ice cream machine instructions.

* * *

The preserves in this post are very similar in taste to the Spiced Strawberry Sorbet I blogged about a year ago. In fact, they use the exact same ingredients, just in slightly different proportions. So the flavor is that same peppery-sweetness that makes the tip of your tongue sizzle a bit. It’s delightful any time of day: with savory biscuits for breakfast, or spooned over fresh goat cheese on crostini or crackers as an hors d’oeuvre, or drizzled over vanilla ice cream for dessert. The recipe satisfies all my criteria for a great post on epicurious: as of this writing, it carries a 4-fork rating and was reviewed by 41 home chefs, 95% of whom would make it again.

And depending on how fast you can slice strawberries, you might even be able to make it in less than an hour.

Spiced Strawberry Preserves

Adapted from Gourmet, June 1997

Makes about 16 ounces (enough to fill two half-pint jars).

2 mounded cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
1¼ cups sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat slightly, so that the mixture remains in a low, rolling boil. If you are compulsive enough (which I am not), you may want to skim the foam, to produce slightly clearer preserves. Let the mixture boil, stirring occasionally, for 18-20 minutes, or until thickened and translucent. [Kitchen Goddess note: To test whether your preserves are set, start by putting a saucer in the freezer at the beginning of the cooking. When you think the jam might be ready, retrieve the saucer and dribble a small spoonful (about a quarter of a teaspoon) onto the center of the saucer. Let it sit for 30 seconds then tilt the plate to about a 15º angle. If the jam barely moves on the plate, it’s done. If it runs down the plate, let it boil a few more minutes.]

Remove the pan from the heat and spoon into jars. Allow to cool completely before storing in the fridge where they’ll keep for a month. Or process for preserving in jars.

Kitchen Goddess warning: Don’t overcook this stuff. Start with a large enough pan to give plenty of surface area, which will reduce the preserves faster. (I used a 3½-quart saucepan.) The second key is to bring it to what I’d call either a hard simmer or a low-rolling boil, and keep it there. If you follow these two tips, your jam should be ready in 18-20 minutes.

I overcooked mine the first time I made it. I’d read many reviews that suggested 20 minutes wasn’t nearly enough, so I boiled it for 30 minutes. What I got was this, which I had to literally pry out of the jars – before throwing it out – the next morning. Hilarious but frustrating, and a waste of good berries. Here endeth the lesson.

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