Sunday, June 28, 2015

8 Ideas for Happier Hosting in the Summertime
What’s cooking? Strawberry Shortcake


I know that today is not the first day of summer. The Kitchen Goddess does not live in a cave. But the first day of summer was also Father’s Day, and dads tend to get short shrift as it is. It didn’t seem fair. So maybe we can just now celebrate the onset of summer without this year tying it to a particular day.

Summer is such a great season for entertaining. Inside or outside, at the beach or in your backyard. It’s more casual than in the other seasons, and more flexible by adding the grill to our toolbox of available techniques.

And in the fun-loving spirit that is the hallmark of this blog, the Kitchen Goddess has pulled together a few suggestions that’ll she hopes will help your warm-weather entertaining be even more inspired than usual:

1. Keep appetizers light – use slices of cucumber or red bell pepper to serve dips and spreads instead of crackers or bread.

Note the finger bowl at top left.
2. When you’re serving finger food, add a small plate with a damp cloth (washcloth or napkin) at each setting, so guests aren’t wiping barbecue sauce on your good napkins.

3. Chill your salad plates before serving – it keeps the greens fresh longer.

4. Set the table with large (20”x30”), colorful dishtowels –  half the towel goes under the plate to serve as a placemat, the other half drapes into your lap as a napkin. Dishtowels are a lot less expensive than linen napkins, and they come in a wide range of bright colors for a festive table.

5. Consider cacti or other succulents to decorate your table instead of flowers. They won’t wilt in the heat, they’re relatively cheap, and some of them even have blossoms.

6. Haul out the Christmas lights – the tiny twinkly ones that come with batteries. Instead of candles in lanterns, fill a fishbowl-type container, or even a gallon-sized jar, with those little lights. The look is of a bunch of fireflies – a magical effect on your table. In the photo here, I layered in some Easter basket grass to further the illusion.

7. If you’re serving a punch or iced tea, use ice cubes made from the drink itself. Then as the cubes melt, they won’t dilute the drink.

8. When the weather is warm, even your red wine can do with a short stint in the fridge. Reds lose flavor when they’re too warm, and will fare much better after 20 minutes or so in the fridge before serving.

One of the best signs of summer is the appearance of strawberries at the farmers’ market. I know, you can get strawberries all year long at the supermarket, but really, folks – we all know those supermarket berries are nothing compared to the red lusciousness of the fresh, in-season fruit. And there’s hardly a better way to enjoy them than when they’re lightly macerated in a little sugar and lemon juice, then spooned over shortbread with whipped cream.

Now before we get started, the Kitchen Goddess wants to show you the most wonderful way to hull strawberries. In fact, it’s so much fun, you’ll want to keep at it long after you have enough strawberries. It’s a great way to get your children or grandchildren to help.

The equipment: a plastic straw.
Step 1: Mise en place.

Step 2: Insert the straw in the base of the strawberry.

Step 3: Keeping a firm but gentle hold on the berry, push the straw up through the center of the stem.

Step 4: Remove the hull from the straw and move on to the next strawberry. Now, wasn’t that fun?!

Today’s recipe for shortbread cakes is adapted from Martha Stewart, and it’s amazingly easy, as you can make the dough in your food processor, and there’s no rolling (!) involved. It’ll take less than an hour starting from the moment you take the lid off your canister of flour until you’re pulling those puppies out of the oven.

I’ve referred to this dish as Strawberry Shortcake, but of course, the same dish made with raspberries or blueberries or blackberries – or any combination thereof – is equally easy and delicious. The key is the shortbread, which is the best I’ve found.

Strawberry Shortcake

Adapted from Martha Stewart online (

Serves 6.

For the berries:
2 pints strawberries (or whatever berries you choose), hulled and sliced in half
1 teaspoon lemon juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon (the zest is optional, but the KG likes it; if you prefer, you can mix some of the zest into the whipped cream)
¼ cup sugar

For the shortcake biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch dice and kept chilled
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, separated
1 egg (any size)

For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare the berries:
In a large bowl and using a wooden spoon, stir the berries gently with the lemon and sugar. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before serving.

Make the shortbread biscuits:
[Special equipment note: you’ll need a biscuit cutter that’s 2-2½ inches across, or a glass about that size. If you use a glass, be sure the flour the edge.]

Preheat the oven to 350º.

In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse the processor 4-5 times to thoroughly mix the dry ingredients.

Add the butter and pulse 12-15 times, until the bits of butter are no larger than a small pea.

It's about ready when the dough starts forming a large clump.
Pour in 1 cup of the cream, and continue to pulse – in bursts of about 2 seconds each – until the dough begins to form a ball (10-12 pulses). Give it another few pulses, and turn the dough out onto a lightly floured piece of wax paper. It’ll be a bit sticky, but you can pat a little flour onto the outside to make it easier to manipulate.

Turns out my wine glass was just the right size.
NO ROLLING. Just pat the ball of dough into a rectangle that’s about ¾ of an inch thick – it should be large enough that you can cut out 6 biscuits. Place the raw biscuits onto a baking sheet lined with baker’s parchment. Then gather up the remaining dough, reform it into a slab ¾ inch thick, which should be large enough to cut another 2 biscuits. And if you’re compulsive like the Kitchen Goddess, you’ll take those remaining pieces of dough and cut one last biscuit. I even took what was left after that and rolled it into a few cigar-shaped tea biscuits.

Ready for the oven.

Whisk together the egg and the remaining 1 tablespoon of cream, and brush it on top of the biscuits to help give them a glossy, golden brown finish.

Bake 25 minutes (rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point), or until that glossy, golden brown finish develops.

Whip the cream:
Combine the cream, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl and whip at high speed until soft peaks form.

Slice the biscuits in half, placing a bottom half on each plate. Mound strawberries with juice on the bottoms, then add the tops and whipped cream. Drizzle juice on the whipped cream and scatter remaining berries around the plates.


  1. What a delightful blog! I am laughing so much I can barely type...what a perfect cartoon for the season! Everything looks delicious. However, the tip with the straw and the strawberries...just the sort of thing that makes me rush to the market and buy too many strawberries so that I can become an expert at that
    Eileen in Atlanta

    1. I knew that rush to the store would happen with somebody -- should have figured it would be you, Eileen! Have a fun afternoon...