Month: May 2013

Strawberry Fool

A few days ago, I read a great column in Buzzfeed about food blogging become a victim of its own success.

As food blogs have become more popular and more competitive, the author writes, successful food blogging “doesn’t have much to do with cooking food that tastes good, or writing a recipe that works. Instead, it’s about cute plates, perfect lighting, photography, and social media networking. In other words, as they say on the internet: It’s about building a brand.”

Well, s***.

That’s never going to be me.

Look, I get it. I really do. I don’t just accept or tolerate marketing, social media, or branding. I work in freaking market research for a public relations company. Part of my job is helping clients understand perceptions of their brand and how to improve them.

But let’s be real for a minute. I leave home between 7 and 8am and am pleased when I make it home before 8pm more nights than not — and that’s a slow week. I’m an amateur cook and a sub-amateur photographer. I own one set of dishes, plain white. My kitchen window is too small and faces the wrong direction to get the right natural lighting for food photography (d’oh! what was I thinking, buying this place?). I don’t own an SLR camera, and if I had an extra $700 sitting around, I certainly wouldn’t spend it on a food styling course.

(Sidebar: Seven HUNDRED dollars? Seriously?)

And even that is not the point. I love the fellowship of cooking and eating as much as the food itself. My dear friend Danielle and I, 800 miles apart, use Facebook to share everything from which Bon Appetit recipe we’re cooking first this month to what to a discussion about the best use for two extra stalks of rhubarb. My husband-wife friends Mike and Lisa not only are willing guinea pigs any time I’m looking to cook, I thought I might die from Mexi-Korean fusion food bliss at the Cinco de Mayo party I talked them into throwing. Then there’s the time my brother, around 23 at the time, called me and proudly declared that for the first time, he had eaten the piece of leaf lettuce on his cheeseburger. (When asked how it tasted, he replied, “Crunchy.” This was not a compliment.)

I started a blog because for me, food is about community — creating and sharing experiences together.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I’d like; I’m not going to go out of my way to make a pot roast at 6am so the lighting is just right, or find the perfect piece of parsley to garnish my plate. My pictures aren’t magazine-worthy. I don’t have hundreds of readers, let alone thousands. I’m okay with that.

I’m not digging on any food bloggers who do those things. To the contrary, I have a deep admiration for them — as artists, photographers, marketers, and especially as chefs, cooks and bakers. I draw as much inspiration from fellow bloggers as traditional food magazines and cookbooks.

And that’s also not to say I don’t hope to improve my skills. I’m just saying, that’s not my primary focus here. Yes, I want to share beautiful food accompanied by heartfelt and well-written prose. But choosing between getting a better picture of a cake or diving in and spending more time with the person I made it for? That’s not even a question.

Tonight, I’m not dwelling over an imperfect photograph. I’m capping off a near-perfect holiday weekend by savoring every last bite of a simple, delicious dessert: strawberries, whipped cream, and Ladyfingers. Pull up a bowl and join me.

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Strawberry Fool

From Bon Appetit

Yield: 6 Servings

2 cups chopped, hulled fresh strawberries (about 8 oz.) plus 6 whole berries for garnish
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
3/4 cup homemade Strawberry Conserve (if using store-bought, use 1/2 cup, stirred to loosen)
3 crisp ladyfingers (savoiardi, Boudoirs, or Champagne biscuits), crushed (or substitute graham crackers)

Place chopped strawberries in a small bowl. Sprinkle sugar over; let sit, tossing occasionally, until juices are released and sugar is dissolved, about 20 minutes.

Beat cream and vanilla seeds in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Add conserve; fold to blend. Add berries with juices; fold almost to blend. Divide among bowls. Sprinkle crushed ladyfingers over. Garnish with whole berries.

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Strawberry Conserve

If early summer could be captured in a jar, Strawberry Conserve is how it would taste.

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Conserve is a fancy way of saying a jam made of fruit stewed in sugar. This one has just three ingredients: strawberries, superfine sugar and lemon. Pretty perfect for summer.With such few ingredients, it’s important to use the highest quality you can find, and not to make substitutes. Don’t fall for the large, watery berries from the grocery store (even at peak season). Get to a garden, farmer’s market, or pick-your-own farm. Superfine (caster) sugar is available at grocery stores, but if you can’t find it, you make it with granulated sugar and a food processor.

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Garden or farm-fresh strawberries are low in acid and pectin, which makes it tricky to preserve. That’s where the lemon comes in: the pith and rind are natural sources of pectin, which helps the jam to set.

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What does one do with a jar of summer? Why, just about anything you can think of. Spooned over ice cream or yogurt. Drizzled over pancakes. Spread on a biscuit or toast. On a picnic with crusty bread, Serrano ham and a little aged balsamic vinegar. Mixed into a cocktail. Folded into whipped cream. Eaten straight out of the jar.

Where did I leave my spoon?

Strawberry Conserve

From Bon Appetit

Yield: 2 cups

4 cups fresh strawberries (about 1 pound), hulled, halved
3/4 cup superfine sugar
Peel (with white pith) of 1/2 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a heavy, wide pot. Cover; let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. (The berries will ooze and sugar will dissolve.)

Bring strawberry mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring gently, until strawberries are just tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer strawberries to 1 pint jar. Continue simmering liquid until it thickens into a syrupy consistency, 1-2 minutes. Discard lemon peel and pour syrup over strawberries; seal and let cool to room temperature. Chill for up to 1 month.

Broiled Salmon, Three Ways

Half the battle of successful weeknight cooking is an arsenal of simple, go-to main dishes. They should be simple enough to have on the table in under 30 minutes, adaptable to seasons, and versatile enough that you won’t tire of eating it once every, say, 2-3 weeks. And of course, they shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.

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Broiled salmon has become one of my mainstays, both on weeknights and weekends. It’s widely available fresh or frozen, and it goes well with just about any vegetable and starch. A marinade or glaze would be a delicious addition, but here, I have stuck with fresh or dried herbs and seasonings. In each case, season the fillet before cooking.

Ginger Salmon: season with dried ginger, Kosher salt and pepper. Serve with broccoli and a baked sweet potato seasoned with ginger, cinnamon, and butter.

Spiced Salmon: season with chopped fresh or dried oregano, cumin, Kosher salt, and a dash of red pepper flakes. Squeeze a lemon wedge over each fillet. Serve with summer squash.

Salmon with Corn Sauce: season with chopped salt and pepper. Ladle 1/2 cup creamy corn sauce onto each plate. Layer with steamed asparagus spears and salmon.

I broil the salmon because it’s efficient and I live in a small apartment. If you have an outdoor grill, by all means, grill!

Choose boneless, skin-on salmon fillets, with an even thickness. (The skin will separate from the flesh during cooking, so there’s no need to pay extra for skinless fillets). For superior flavor, choose wild salmon if you can find it without paying a small fortune.

Basic Broiled Salmon

Adjust oven racks so that the top rack is 4″ from the heat element. Turn broiler to high. Pat salmon fillets dry with paper towels. Season as desired. Place fillets skin-side down on a broiling pan coated with cooking spray. Place the pan on the top rack. Broil for 7 minutes until fish flakes easily with a fork. (Follow manufacturer’s instructions about whether to broil with the oven door open or closed.)

Creamy Corn Sauce

Yield: about 2 cups

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 cup dry white wine (or use more broth)
1 3/4 c low-sodium chicken broth (or substitute vegetable broth)
1 sprig whole plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, divided
2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender but not browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Stir in the wine. Bring to a boil; cook until the wine is reduced by half, 1-2 minutes. Add broth and thyme and return to boiling. Stir in corn. Simmer over medium-low heat until the corn is tender, about 15 minutes. Discard thyme sprig.

Puree with a freestanding or immersion blender until smooth. Return to the pan and stir in butter, chopped thyme, and salt and pepper to taste (I start with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of pepper). Make ahead: Sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 1 day ahead.