We Love Cooking! + [strawberry]

:: Strawberry Season 2/2
Grand Marnier
Grand Marnier: blended cognacs with orange essence

Speaking of tradition, it's as good as written law around here that when there are fresh, local strawberries on hand there must also be strawberry shortcake. So, we had back to back shortcake. The second time 'round though I needed it to be an easily transported dessert to bring to a party. Cake form seemed like the perfect way to go, all assembled and easy to head out with. Playing on the orange tones of my first orange-rosemary shortcake, I incorporated some Grand Marnier to lend a sweet citrus flavor to the whipped cream. Also, instead of a plain vanilla bean cake, I made a rustic cornmeal cake to add pleasant texture and sweetness from the fresh milled corn.

strawberry cornmeal cake
Cornmeal cake with Grand Marnier vegan whipped cream and fresh berries

One note though, as pretty as it is to have the green tops on the strawberries topping this cake, it's a total suckers move and I implore you to resist it! I can't tell you how many ways in which I should have known better, but the beauty of the berries with the tops still on conspired to drag me down as I opted, thoughtlessly, for aesthetics over eating. A choice that meant I later had to sit, shamefaced, as my friends picked berries out of the mess of whipped cream to remove the tops, which of course they couldn't enjoyably eat. Sigh.

strawberry rhubarb pie
Strawberry rhubarb pie with cornmeal pâte sucrée

I tried to make it up to them though with my favorite pie, strawberry rhubarb. Following the thought about cornmeal and strawberries, which worked so well in the cornmeal shortcake, I made a tender pâte sucrée with cornmeal and coconut oil instead of margarine or oil. The coconut was a very mild flavor influence on the end result and worked surprisingly well in the crust which was wonderfully flaky, light and tenderly sweet against the tart fruit filling.

Fresh strawberry
Fresh strawberry jam filled rambutan mochi with Thai basil sauce and strawberry powder

Last year I served my strawberry rhubarb pie with basil ice cream, but this year my basil is not incredibly bountiful. My lemon verbena could swallow up the yard, but the basil is sort of a no-go. It's sad. There is enough to work smaller projects with though, so I made a dessert that caught my eye in Johnny Iuzzini's Dessert FourPlay a couple months ago. In the original version, Iuzzini fills strawberry mochi with strawberry rhubarb compote and serves it with basil fluid gel. I took some liberties to make the dessert a little faster to assemble and different in flavor, pairing my fresh strawberry jam filling with a freeze-dried rambutan mochi (reasoning that if I find an affinity between strawberries and lychees, rambutans would work as well) and serving it with Thai basil sauce. My mochi technique could use some work (I blame the leakage on my imperfect motor control with a hand still swollen from carpal tunnel release surgery) but overall, I adored this light little dessert and its intriguing Southeast Asian flavors.

Chocolate spiced baby banana pudding with strawberries
Chocolate spiced baby banana pudding with strawberries

A more straightforward, classic pairing between strawberries and chocolate was something I noticed had fallen by the wayside this season. I guess I've been taking my chocolate pretty straight these days and have been in a particular rut with the super dry, dark and lovely 84% Theo single origin bar from Ghana. So good. But I digress. Feeling that these amazing strawberries could make chocolate even more magical, I whipped up a very random pudding of organic baby bananas, dark chocolate, anise, chilies, cinnamon, nutmeg and espresso salt, sweetened with date syrup and topped with fresh berries. It was meant as a quick treat of no consequence but was so good, I'm pledged to make it again and actually write down every element of the recipe since several friends have proclaimed it's one of the best things ever, period.

Breakfast with berries
Breakfast with berries and nibs

After finally getting my strawberry and chocolate fix, I realized that I'd sort of been enjoying the two together all along in my breakfast bowl. Homemade cocoa nib granola with fresh berries isn't quite chocolate dipped strawberries, but it's more than satisfying at seven am.

mini tarts
Almond crust mini tarts with fresh fruit, nibs and lemon verbena

Thinking about how nicely nibs complemented strawberries, I sprinkled a few Taza chocolate covered nibs into my mini tarts. They provided a nice bittersweet crunch against the fruit and buttery almond crust.

strawberry cheesecake
Almond strawberry cheesecake

Almonds are a natural complement to strawberries. Their rich sweetness and lightly bitter edge are perfect against tart berry notes. And there's a reason why strawberry cheesecake is so popular; sweet tangy cheese has its richness both cut slightly and complemented by each bite of berry. So, an almond crusted and amaretto spiked cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries glazed with hot strawberry syrup and sprinkled with almond slices seemed like just the thing.

cheese and strawberry rhubarb jam
Whole wheat English muffin with farmer's cheese and strawberry rhubarb jam

I've had a lot of semi-successful vegan cheese-ish substances around lately as I've been experimenting to find one that really suits me. None of them are perfect, but with a good amount of fiddling, they've all turned into tasty additions to desserts and ice cream bases. The mixture that I turned into cheesecake was also spun off into a nice mellow farmer's cheese that went wonderfully with fresh strawberry rhubarb jam (again from the Joy of Jams, but with much less sugar than called for).

bagels and jam
bagels fresh out of the oven

In fact, I made several jams from the new book: plain strawberry, strawberry rhubarb and strawberry kiwi. With such deliciously fresh tasting jams are hanging around the house, it seemed pretty much obvious that I needed to make a delicious delivery mechanism for them. So when King Aurthur flour had a free-shipping deal, I refilled my stock of organic high gluten flour and made a batch of bagels from the Bread Baker's Apprentice, some coated into sesame seeds and some streaked with pasilla chili powder and topped with chili lime Hawaiian sea salt.

brunch plate
Brunch at Dara's with everyone's delicious contributions: homemade bagels and jam, fennel seitan, chicory in tahini garlic sauce, roasted potatoes, beet orzo and melon with mint

Toasted and spread equally with fresh made jam and strawberry cream cheese, these were a delicious promise that the joy of strawberries in season can last as long as the jars of jam do, even if we've only got another week or two to enjoy them fresh.