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Late update, since tomorrow will bring us the Week 2’s CSA  box.

My first 2013 Dennison’s Family Farm CSA box yielded the following:

  • Three onions: red, white and yellow. These have gone in everything from quinoa to chicken fajitas.
  • One leek. Still in the crisper, it’ll probably end up in quinoa.
  • Broccoli rabe. I washed and chopped the greens and buds, and the husband mixed them into ricotta along with spicy Italian sausage to add a little zest to his fabulous homemade calzones. In truth, the sausage overwhelmed the flavor of the rabe, but we tried.
  • Pac Choi: This sits abandoned in my crisper, because I am shamefully bad at using leaf vegetables that have to be cooked.
  • One green squash. I immediately chopped this up and stir-fried it in olive oil with a bit of garlic. Easiest side dish ever.
  • Two quarts of strawberries. Alas, the last two quarts of strawberries I’ll get out of Tennessee this year. I made ice cream with them using my favorite recipe from Ben & Jerry’s (this is the only ice cream recipe book you need to own, BTW). I tossed in a cup of white chocolate chips toward the end for Something Completely Different, but I can’t really taste them. Turns out super sweet strawberries are enough all by themselves.
  • Pistou basil. This is a dwarf basil plant that I need to transplant outside. Last year’s wasn’t very prolific, I have to admit, but I’ll be swimming in fresh basil for the rest of the summer when Dennison’s herbs, along with my emergency back-up plant, start producing.

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So it turns out that strawberry shortcake is NOT simply strawberries with pound cake, angel food cake or sponge cake (no, not even those perfectly round little sponge cakes sold in packs of six in your grocery store’s produce section).

The shortcake you likely remember from your childhood? An imposter.

Shortcake is its very own thing. Simply placing strawberries and whipped cream (or, more likely, Cool Whip) on top of any kind of cake does not magically turn it into shortcake. (And while I’m on the subject of Cool Whip, how is it that nobody ever told me how EASY it was to make your own whipped cream?)

Shortcakes are essentially biscuits made with butter instead of shortening, with just a hint of added sugar. They’re supposed to accent the strawberries, after all, not compete for the title of sweetest dessert element.

I’ve made the Cook’s Illustrated version of strawberry shortcake a couple of times, and it’s a winner. The shortcakes are light, but substantial enough to hold the juicy berries without falling apart. The strawberries themselves could probably do with a little less added sugar, especially if you’re lucky enough to get specimens as sweet as I’ve found at the Dennison’s Family Farm strawberry stand this year. The recipe makes way more shortcakes than two people need, but the leftover cakes are good for a couple more days and you can make half, a third or even a quarter of the whipped cream recipe if you like.

Strawberry Shortcake

  • 8 cups (about 2.5 lbs.) strawberries, hulled
  • 6 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting the work surface and biscuit cutter)
  • 5 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick (8 Tbsp.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tsp. half-and-half
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups whipped cream

For the strawberries:
Place 3 cups of the hulled strawberries in a large bowl and crush with a potato masher. Slice the remaining 5 cups berries and stir into the crushed berries along with the sugar. Set the fruit aside to macerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. (Note: Our leftover macerated strawberries were good for three more days.)

For the shortcakes:
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the flour, 3 Tbsp. of the sugar, the baking powder, and salt to combine. Scatter the butter pieces on top and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about fifteen 1-second pulses. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Mix the beaten egg with the half-and-half and vanilla extract in a measuring cup. Pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture. Combine with a rubber spatula until large clumps form. Turn the mixture onto a floured work surface and lightly knead until it comes together. (Note: I’m not sure how I avoided screwing this up, given my lack of prowess with bread dough. It was a sticky mess, but I somehow managed to work enough extra flour in to make it work without ruining it. The husband has mad dough-making skills, so I should probably convince him to handle this part.)

Use your fingertips to pat the dough into a 9-by-6-inch rectangle about ¾-inch thick, being careful not to overwork the dough.

Flour a 2¾-inch biscuit cutter and cut out 6 dough rounds. Place the rounds 1 inch apart on a small baking sheet, brush the tops with the beaten egg white, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar. (Dough rounds can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 hours before baking.) (The recipe notes that you can roll up the leftover dough scraps and make more shortcakes, but warns that they may not be as good as the originals. I detected no difference, so use all of your dough.)

Bake until the shortcakes are golden brown, 12-14 minutes. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool the cakes until warm, about 10 minutes.

To assemble:
When the shortcakes have cooled slightly, split them in half. Place each cake bottom on an individual serving plate, and spoon a portion of the fruit and a dollop of whipped cream over each cake bottom. Cap with the cake top and serve immediately.

Whipped Cream 
Makes about 2 cups

  • 1 cup heavy cream, cold
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Chill a deep, non-reactive, 1- to 1.5-quart bowl and beaters in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Put all ingredients in bowl and beat on low until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium and beat until beaters leave a trail through the mixture, approximately 30 seconds more. Beat on high until the whipped cream is smooth, thick and nearly doubled in volume, about 20 to 30 seconds. (Note: Don’t skimp on freezing the bowl and beaters. That’s what makes the magic happen.)

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Even after making jam, I had at least a quart of strawberries left yesterday. Enter Facebook, where one of my friends had recently posted a recipe for White Chocolate and Strawberry Cookies. They were reported to be pink and delicious, and while I’m no great fan of pink food, I am quite fond of all things delicious.

The dough turned out a bit thinner than most cookie dough I’ve worked with — I think it’s difficult to add strawberries to some foods without watering them down. Thus, the cookies spread out a bit during baking more than I would have liked, but they were still delicious.

They have more of a cake-like texture than your average cookie, and the white chocolate chips almost make them cloyingly sweet, but not quite. I’m tempted to make them without the chips, but I don’t think the strawberry flavor will shine on its own.

I used the shorter baking temperature for softer cookies.

White Chocolate Chip and Strawberry Cookies

1 1/2 cups strawberries, cleaned
1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Clean, trim, and slice berries.
  3. Crush strawberries with a potato masher. (You should end up with 3/4 cup of crushed strawberries.) Leave some larger chunks if desired; set berries aside.
  4. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars.
  5. Beat in one egg at a time.
  6. In a separate bowl whisk flour, salt and baking powder.
  7. Add dry mixture to creamed mixture, about 1/2 a cup at a time.
  8. When well mixed, slowly add berries, about 1/4 cup at a time, while mixing at the same time, ensuring berries are spread well throughout.
  9. Add the white chocolate chips and stir to combine evenly throughout batter.
  10. Drop batter in tablespoons about 1-inch apart on a greased baking sheet.
  11. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 to 12 minutes for soft cookies, or up to a maximum of about 14-15 minutes for crunchier cookies, watching the edges to ensure they are lightly browned.
  12. Cool on wire racks.

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The first CSA delivery of the season contained a ridiculously large basket of strawberries, so I needed a quick way to use a lot of them.

I remember jam-making and jelly-making as a hot, time-consuming process, but I also remember my grandmother switching to the easier “freezer jam” method at some point, so I don’t feel like that much of a cheater for using it.

I’ll find out whether it worked in approximately 17 hours.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 29: Listed a couple of books and CDs for sale at Amazon. I’m always tempted to keep every book that comes into my hands, but I don’t have room, and I don’t miss them when they’re gone.

Day 30: I have been granted permission to scour the garage and make executive decisions. Best. Fling. Ever.

Day 31: Who’s the genius that came up with side-by-side refrigerators? The freezer section isn’t necessarily small, but it acts small, with two deep drawers that items just get lost in, and a couple of flimsy wire shelves, one with too much vertical space, the other with too little. The design of the refrigerator section is slightly better, but it’s not proportioned quite right either. And, because it’s shoved into a just-right-sized hole in the cabinetry, I can’t open the fridge door enough to remove the drawers. So they’re only as clean as I can get them while they’re still inside. No soaking old dirt and grime off; it’s there for life.

I’ve only chosen my own refrigerator once during my entire life, and we had to leave it behind when we moved four years ago. Therefore, I’m always stuck with somebody else’s bad decision and missing accessories.

Sigh. Today, I repacked some small bags of frozen cantaloupe, strawberries and greens into bigger bags in an effort to make one of the freezer drawers less of an abyss. The other one may hold a human head for all I know.

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Today, a friend sent me a link to Unclutterer, a blog about getting organized. The posts preach minimalism: the less stuff you own, the less stuff you have to organize. Every Wednesday the site mocks “unitaskers,” items that only serve one function while taking up valuable space. These products are often the worst of the “as seen on TV” club, and invariably enable you to do things that you can easily do without them, such as washing your feet or cracking eggs.

I admitted earlier this week to owning my own unitasker, an awesome cappuccino maker that, after a scroll through Unclutterer to see the ridiculous things that other people own, I’m liking more and more. While preparing dinner tonight, however, I realized that I’m actually the proud owner of two more unitaskers, both of which I needed for the substantial amount of produce in my CSA:

  • The Oxo Good Grips Strawberry Huller, which pierces the strawberry, scoops out the hull and releases it in a couple of quick moves. Using a knife to cut out stems is tedious and a bit slow, and poking a straw into the center of each strawberry simply makes a mess and often doesn’t remove the entire stem. This unitasker is also small and easy to clean, so it stays.
  • The Oxo Good Grips Corn Stripper, which strips and collects corn kernels as you move it down the corn cob. Sure, it does what a good sharp knife will do, but it does it without making a huge mess. Stripping corn with a knife results in flying kernels. The easy-to-clean container on this gadget is what makes it worth having. Fill it with corn kernels, dump them out into a bowl, then start filling it again.

So, in my kitchen a unitasker must perform its task much better than other multitasking accessories can and it must be easy to clean. (In fairness, apparently it also must be an Oxo product or an Italian import.)

I have this paranoid idea that most unitasker products are given as gifts by people who are hating on the clean, efficiently run kitchens of their recipients. What other explanation is there for the s’more makers that rampaged across American Christmas shopping lists a few years ago?

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When I was a child, a visit to my grandparents was a magical event. They had a farm with gardens, cows, tractors and sometimes even horses. My brother and I were transformed into free-range children, loosed to explore the edge of the woods, climb big hills of red clay and ride the Big Wheel up and down grassy slopes, dodging excited dogs and fallen tree branches along the way.

The food was also an adventure. I can’t think of my grandmother without picturing her in the kitchen, mixing biscuits by hand, cutting up potatoes or rolling out a pie crust.

One of the culinary experiences we looked forward to the most was homemade ice cream. My grandmother always kept one of those old-fashioned hand-crank wooden barrels on the back porch; once it was deemed hot enough outside, she would make a ton of ice (or get someone to pick up a couple of bags on the way back from town), gather the salt, make the ice cream base and prep the grandkids for hard labor.

Because if we wanted ice cream so badly, we were going to have to work for it, turning the crank until the mixture thickened so much that we our little arms just couldn’t turn it anymore and our grandfather had to come to our rescue and finish the job for us.

The ice cream always came out thick and delicious, not as firm as it would be after a couple of hours in the freezer, but good enough to eat without having to wait. And while we were good kids, waiting for ice cream after all that work was not on our list of things to do.

Fast forward to the late 1990s, when I my husband gifted me with an electric ice cream freezer. I was disappointed when my first batch emerged from the canister not merely soft, but soupy. When the second and third batches did the same thing, I packed the freezer away and gave up.

(Yes, you can buy hand-crank ice cream freezers, but they make way more ice cream than two people [these two people, anyway] can eat, and we don’t have any readily available child labor.)

I was on the verge of tossing the freezer a couple of years ago when I gave it one more chance and it redeemed itself with a recipe for strawberry ice cream from the Ben & Jerry’s recipe book. Alas, that’s the only ice cream recipe that emerges from the maker ready to eat.

I’m ready to give it another go, however, because the Red Velvet ice cream from Jake’s Ice Cream in Atlanta is everything I’ve tried to accomplish in homemade ice cream and more. It was like a fresh piece of cake, cream cheese icing and all, mashed up in a scoop of ice cream. Only it had all been frozen together at once, without the cake drying out or freezing into crunchy, unsatisfying bits.

We visited the Irwin Street Market location of Jake’s, a former warehouse housing several creative food vendors. The building’s got kind of a Lowe Mill feel, for any Huntsvillians reading, only on a smaller scale.

The husband had the Nutella flavor, which I don’t even SEE on the menu. Jake must spend his days dreaming up awesome new flavors. I want Jake’s job.

Anyway, I’m trying to decide whether to dump a measure of red velvet cake and cream cheese icing into my unpredictable (or, I guess, quite predictable) ice cream maker or just mash some cake and ice cream together toddler birthday party style. It’s a win either way, right?

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