Strawberries

Strawberry Shortcakes with Basil-Infused Whipped Cream

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It’s June! This is my absolute favorite month of the year. Beautiful weather, an open pool, baseball, strawberries, birthdays… oh the birthdays. More on that soon.

Not long after my last post, a professional opportunity presented itself that I simply could not turn down. The Gatsby and I packed up the Jeep and drove to Nebraska for a 7-week adventure (or, in The Gatsby’s case, a 7-week vacation at Grandpa’s house). There was some cooking, but mostly working and eating, little recipe-testing, and no blogging.

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The Gatsby spent part of our drive on my lap.

We’ve been back in Virginia for about two weeks and are settling in nicely after a lovely and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. I’m back at the gym, and I’ve been to the pool six times already. And I made these delicious shortcakes for an office shindig.

I LOVE whipped cream infused with herbs such as basil or mint. It’s unexpected and fun, and just a bit fancy without being over the top. These were easy to bring to the office. The night before, I infused the cream and made the shortcakes. In the morning, I whipped the cream and packed up the container along with a package of strawberries, the shortcakes, a few basil leaves, and a paring knife. At party time, I sliced the berries and set up a make-your-own assembly line.

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Strawberry Shortcakes with Basil-Infused Whipped Cream

Shortcakes from Bon Appetit
Serves 8

2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
15 large basil leaves, plus small or torn leaves
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups flour
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 lb strawberries, sliced

Infuse the cream: Bring 1 1/2 cups cream to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bruise large basil leaves by hitting repeatedly with the dull side of a knife; stir into cream. Remove from heat, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let steep for 25 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl, pressing solids to extract liquid. Refrigerate until very cold, at least 5 hours.

Make the shortcakes: Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk sugar, baking powder, salt, and flour in a large bowl. Using your fingers, work in butter until the texture of coarse meal with some pea-sized pieces of butter remaining. Add remaining 1 cup cream and mix until dough just comes together (it will be sticky). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a rectangle, about 12 x 4″, 3/4″ thick. Cut rounds using a 2 1/2″ biscuit cutter, re-rolling scraps to make 8 rounds. Transfer cakes to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Whisk egg and water in a small bowl. Brush tops of cakes with egg wash. Bake until tops are golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Make ahead: Shortcakes are best served fresh but can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

Assemble: Beat the basil-infused cream and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Split shortcakes and fill with berries and whipped cream. Top with additional whipped cream and basil leaves.

Suggestions and alternatives:
If you like your strawberries saucy, increase to 1 1/4 pounds berries and toss with 1/4 cup sugar (and a few torn basil leaves if you like). Macerate for an hour or more, tossing occasionally.

Substitute angel food cake for the shortcakes. If you’re grilling out, try lightly grilling slices of angel food cake before serving.

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The Strawberry Muddle

IMG_2878 - CopyJune is my favorite time of year, and not just because it’s my birthday (although that certainly doesn’t hurt). The weather is just right, the days are long, pools are open, it’s baseball season. It’s really the perfect month, except that it is fleeting. Thirty days is never enough.

I love wine, and I am especially partial to red (the blog name isn’t a coincidence). Some people don’t like to drink red in the summer. I won’t go that far, but when the weather turns warm, I do tend to swap my reds for roses, whites, and bubbly a bit more often. A couple summers ago, I found this drink recipe, and it’s become one of my summer staples, whether I’m entertaining friends or just sitting on my imaginary porch and enjoying a summer nightcap.

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Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine, usually dry or extra dry, which in wine-speak means it isn’t sweet. It’s about $6-10 a bottle at Trader Joe’s, making it an inexpensive alternative to champagne and a great option for budget-friendly entertaining.

This is one of those drinks that would look better if I were a professional photographer and food stylist… Meh. I’d rather be sipping my cocktail, thankyouverymuch. :)

The Strawberry Muddle

From Bon Appetit
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups chopped hulled strawberries
6 tablespoons simple syrup*
6 thin lemon slices
Ice cubes
750-ml bottle chilled Prosecco

* To make simple syrup: combine equal parts sugar and water in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves (for this recipe, try 1/2 cup). Increase heat and bring to a boil. Cool syrup.

Divide strawberries among six 6- to 8-ounce glasses; add 1 tablespoon syrup to each and mash with muddler or handle of wooden spoon. Add lemon slice to each and mash to release flavor. Add several ice cubes to each glass, then fill with Prosecco.

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.