by Jolene Adams, coordinator, LLCC Culinary Institute
Fruit is one of the most versatile foods in my book and can be utilized in so many different ways.
Strawberries are the stars when it comes to versatility. Besides being perfect to pick and eat fresh, they can be made into pies, jam and smoothies. Used as a topping for cheesecake and shortcake, a filling for crepes, an ingredient in scones and Danish, their baking uses are vast. They are also found in fruit parfaits, traditional fruit salads and tossed into green salads for added sweetness. Ultimately they are at their peak of perfection and simplicity when dipped in chocolate.
Strawberries also work their magic as a drink ingredient. Whether it is strawberry lemonade, strawberry margaritas, or strawberry daiquiris, strawberries make the perfect summertime drink. Strawberries go beyond desserts, drinks and chocolate-dipped. They can also be featured as a complimenting flavor in savory dishes such as salads, salsas and dressings, or even in non-traditional ways such as barbeque sauce or gelatin-filled shooters.
Have you ever eaten freshly picked strawberries? They are far better tasting than store bought. We are very fortunate to have many local farms in central Illinois where a family can spend the afternoon picking fresh berries together. It can be a great activity for children of all ages. The rows are easy to walk, the plants grow low to the ground at the perfect height for children, and the bright red fruit is easy for them to spot. Plus, the May through June picking season is usually the perfect weather, not too hot or humid. Or, simply skip the farm and head for the nearest farmers market to pick up some just picked berries. Either way, you can’t beat the taste of fresh picked.
Cleaning and storing fresh berries is pretty easy. Wash the strawberries, especially after picking them straight from the field. They will absorb water, which will ruin the berries by turning them mushy, so be sure not to soak them. Use a large bucket or bowl, fill it with strawberries and cold water, give them a quick swirl or agitate briefly, then drain off all of the water. Repeat if the water is extremely muddy or dirty. Next, spread out the berries on towels to absorb excess moisture. Make sure the strawberries are mostly dry before storing.
At this point they can be sorted into three groups. The really ripe and soft berries should be grouped together and used for baking scones, smoothies, drinks and items where the appearance and texture does not matter. Since they are very ripe, they should be used within a few days.
The second group should consist of the picture perfect strawberries. These are the ripe yet still firm berries that have no blemishes. This group of berries can be laid out in a single layer on a sheet pan, stored in the refrigerator for up to a week and used for salads, parfaits, pies and cake toppings or any item where the appearance and texture are both featured.
Then there is the third group of strawberries, those with blemishes and the ones that may have been slightly smashed, which will happen to the strawberries on the bottom of a filled five gallon bucket. Cut away the blemishes and use these strawberries to make jams and sauces. Now it’s time to use all those berries. Here are some of my favorite traditional and not-so-traditional strawberry recipes. Enjoy!
* 2½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
*4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
*2 teaspoons baking powder
*1 teaspoon table salt
*6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, room temperature
*½ cup fresh strawberries
*2/3 cup buttermilk
*¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
*1 large egg
*2 tablespoons heavy cream (for brushing)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; reserve.
Place the flour, 3 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the flat beaters, mix the dry ingredients on speed 1 to combine. Add the butter and mix on speed 2 until mixture is shaggy. Reduce speed 1. With the mixer running, slowly add the liquid ingredients until just combined; do not over mix.
Pour the mixture onto a clean counter/large cutting board and add the strawberries; gently divide evenly throughout the dough.
Form the dough into a 10-inch disc, about 1-inch high. Using a sharp knife, cut into 8 even pieces. Place on prepared baking sheet. Brush each scone with heavy cream and the reserved sugar. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown.
Let cool before serving.
Strawberry Margarita Shooters
*24 large strawberries
*1 box Strawberry flavored gelatin
*1 cup tequila
*3/4 cup Cointreau
Balancing the strawberry on its side, parallel to the cutting board at the point where it is widest, cut off the top. Still holding it the same way, cut off a tiny part of the strawberry’s bottom tip so the berry can stand upright. Make sure not to cut off too much or you’ll create a hole at the bottom. Repeat with all remaining strawberries.
Using a melon baller or small measuring spoon, carefully scoop out the insides of the strawberries. Put them all on a baking sheet and dry them a little with a paper towel.
Combine gelatin mix with 3/4 cup boiling water and stir 2 minutes to completely dissolve.
Stir tequila and Cointreau into the gelatin mixture. Using a container with a spout, pour gelatin/booze mixture into strawberry cups. Fill them up as much as possible, the gelatin will shrink as it solidifies. Refrigerate four hours or until firm.
Zest lime into a plate of sugar. Slice lime (you can use the same one if you don’t care about the aesthetics, or a new one if you do) into thin rounds, then cut into small wedges. You may also want to cut a small chunk through the center of each wedge’s flesh so they can balance on the tip of the strawberry. Wet the sides of the solidified gelatin shot with lime or water, roll in your sugar-lime zest, and garnish with lime wedge.
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1/4 cup)
Serve this sweet and savory salsa with roast chicken, sautéed fish or grilled pork tenderloin. You can also enjoy it as a snack with baked tortilla chips.
*1 cup finely chopped strawberries
*1/4 cup finely chopped peeled avocado
*2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
*2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
*1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind
*2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
*2 teaspoons finely chopped seeded jalapeño pepper
*1/4 teaspoon sugar
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl; toss gently. Serve immediately.
Tangy Strawberry Barbecue Sauce
Yield: 3 cups
Use on grilled chicken breast, pork chops and pork ribs. Brush sauce on during the last 5-8 minutes of grilling.
*4 cups sliced fresh strawberries
*1/2 cup chili sauce
*2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
*2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
*1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
*2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
*1 large garlic clove, minced
*1 tablespoon light brown sugar
*1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
*1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Process strawberries, chili sauce, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, lemon zest, lemon juice, minced garlic, brown sugar, salt, and cayenne pepper in a food processor until smooth, 15 to 20 seconds.
Ball Recipe Strawberry Freezer Jam
Yield: 5 half pints
This is an easy way to make and store jam without going through the process of canning.
* 2 cups crushed strawberries (about 2 pounds)
* 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
* 41/2 cups sugar
* 3/4 cup water
* 6 Tablespoons Ball Real Fruit Classic Pectin
* 5 Ball plastic 8 ounce freezer jars
Combine prepared fruit with lemon juice in a large bowl. Add sugar, mixing thoroughly. Let stand 10 minutes.
Combine water and pectin in a small saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, stirring constantly. Boil hard for 1 minute, continuing to stir.
Add cooked pectin mixture to fruit mixture stir for 3 minutes.
Ladle freezer jam into clean freezer jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Apply caps and let jam stand in refrigerator until set, but no longer than 24 hours.
Refrigerate up to 3 weeks or freeze up to 1 year.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.