strawberries

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today is the day we show our love… I love my husband… I love my kids… I love chocolate-covered strawberries! They are little, red, sweet, and fruity gifts wrapped in chocolate packages. The best part is, well, eating them. But the second best part is that they require very little skill. I don’t know if you’ve made them before, but I want you to know that it is so easy a four-year-old can do it.

As organic as possible:

2 pints (16-18) fresh Strawberries

1 bag (approx 11.5 oz.) Milk-Chocolate chips

1/2 bag (approx 6 oz.) Semi-Sweet Chocolate chips

1/2 bag (approx 6 oz.) White Chocolate chips (optional)

I know in a lot of professional dessert shops, they don’t rinse the strawberries. They actually use a soft brush and clean them like you would a mushroom. I understand the reasoning: you don’t want the extra moisture content to separate the berry from the chocolate. I get it. That said, I’m a little weird about not rinsing my fruit off.

I do use organic strawberries; which is important to me, not eating all of the toxic pesticides, not to mention GMO’s… But this is about Valentine’s Day -so let’s not go there! All I’m saying is that I rinse off my berries. Then pat them dry with a paper towel and let them sit until they are dry again. (I also realize that for someone who cares about the earth I use way too many paper towels.)

Now that we’ve got the dirty part out of the way, let’s get back to those clean berries. When they’re dry, all you need to do is melt your chocolate.

 

If you have a heavy bottomed saucepan, you could put the heat on low and let the chocolate slowly melt. However, it’s a more subtle and foolproof way to do the traditional double broiler method. Just put about an inch of water in the bottom of a sauce pan and set a glass bowl on the top (not touching the water) and set the heat on med-high letting the water come to a boil. Stir often until the chocolate is melted through, and no more chocolate lumps are visible. Carefully move the bowl to your work station (most likely the counter top).

Next, simply hold the berries by their green tips and dip and roll the fruit around in a chocolate bath until the berry is mostly covered with chocolate.

Let the excess drip off and then place them on a wax paper lined baking sheet.

It’s a simple as that, and you can totally stop there and eat your berries -and be happy. But my sweetheart happens to like white chocolate so I took it a step further and melted a little more goodness. This time because of the small amount, I microwaved the white chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds, then 15 second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate was smooth.

Because I am not a pastry shop I just used a Ziploc baggy with a hole cut in the corner for my drizzle.

Using a back and forth zigzag motion, draw the white lines across your chocolate-covered berries. Let the kids help, this doesn’t have to be perfection! (Unless you’re selling them, then you need to be meticulous… please refer to another blog.)

The work is done! Let the berries set for a while until the chocolate cools and hardens. If you have a refrigerator large (and sparse) enough to hold the trays… Lucky you! Just kidding. It can help the chocolate set faster.

And if you have a little extra chocolate that you don’t want to waste… Consider dipping in cookies, or graham crackers!

 Or of course, cleaning out the bowl yourself is always a viable option.

I hope your day is full of LOVE! (and chocolate)

Berry-Banana Smoothie Bowl

Now that I’m a raging health nut… I buy healthy recipe magazines. And according to my Clean Eating periodical, “Smoothie Bowls” are all the rage. They’re smoothies you can chuck so full of nutritional goodness and frozen fruits/veggies that you can’t suck them through a straw- hence the bowl and spoon. Of course if you know me, you know I am all about cutting edge (and regularly sarcastic). But I thought, why not? I like smoothies and I certainly know how to freeze a banana. However, for all my strides in stocking my pantry with chia seeds, coconut milk, almond flour, and avocado oil; I still came up short on my chlorella, maqui berry and maca powders. So I came up with my own, and I must say that it does feel indulgent. Like eating berry ice cream for breakfast! 😉

 

Serves 2 (or a hungry 1)

As organic as possible:

9 frozen Strawberries

1 frozen Banana, sliced into 2″ pieces

1/2 cup Almond Milk (Soy or non-fat milk)

5 Ice cubes

2 cups mixed frozen Blueberries, Raspberries and Blackberries

1/3 cup granola (preferably with some source of protein: nuts or seeds), plus more for topping (optional)

1 Tbsp Honey (buzzword “raw” optional)

 

Make sure to freeze your fruit the night before or at least several hours in advance (or you might end up with a regular old smoothie). Place all the ingredients in a blender and flip the switch! (Or push the button…)

Spoon the ingredients into a bowl and top with granola or slivered almonds if you’d like, and eat up butter cup. You’re so healthy!

Marsh-bani Fruit Dip & Fruit Salad

It doesn’t get easier or tastier than this. Honestly it’s just delicious. The fruit dip is sweet and a little tangy, ridiculous when you think about how easy it is. Did I mention it is fat-free? Your taste buds will never know. The yogurt goodness coats the fruit nicely as a dip, but why stop there? The next thought was, oh my goodness, this needs to be in a fruit salad. And can I just tell you, it was stellar. As in: this is what fruit salad needs to taste like for the rest of my life. If you are having a party this weekend, it’s great to serve dip style or in individual cups. So because I really can’t decide which way I like more, I’m sharing both. Lastly, let me just add that if you have any left over, you should throw it into a morning smoothie, because it is awesome… and so are you.

1 cup Marshmallow Creme

1/2 cup Chobani Fat Free Vanilla Greek Yogurt

1 pint blueberries, rinsed and drained

2 pints strawberries, rinsed and drained

2 large bananas (or 3 medium), I leave mine in the peel and third or quarter

2 apples, cut into wedges (with a couple center slices reserved for garnish)

Dipping fruit of your choice

Garnish with apple slices and fresh mint (optional)

That’s it! Two parts marshmallow creme to 1 part Chobani Vanilla Greek yogurt. Brilliant! I used a hand held mixer (with a whisk attachment) to blend the marshmallow and yogurt in a medium sized bowl. If you are blending by hand, just mix until they are incorporated. Place the mixture into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (or until party time), and the marshmallow and yogurt blend will continue to infuse.

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Now if you want to turn it into fruit salad…

Hull and half (or quarter depending on size) your strawberries, peel your bananas and cut them along with the apples into bite size pieces. Place the fruit into a bowl, drizzle with the Marsh-bani Fruit Dip and gently toss. I take the extra step of tossing the fruit salad in a separate bowl from the one I am serving in, especially for a party… but that’s up to you. The dip can be made a day in advance, but I would not dress and toss the salad until ready to serve. Present in a bowl with a serving spoon or in individual serving dishes for guests to help themselves. Indulge yourself in this sweet treat!

 

 

 

The Richmond Avenue’s Cottage Cheese Oatmeal Pancakes

At first glance these pancakes looked like something I had to try. I know what most people were thinking, “these sound weird,” because Jasmine wrote that they did. But not me, I was thinking these sound unique, I love cottage cheese and look at that picture! I want to eat that! Of course that’s what I think about most of the food from The Richmond Avenue, which is why I selected this recipe for my WordPress Cooking Challenge!

When I started to collect the ingredients I would need to make these pancakes, my first thought was I need to get a new food processor with a larger capacity. Which actually has no connection with this recipe because the instructions clearly state to combine the ingredients in a blender, which I did. However, that was my first thought none-the-less.

It was when I began to pour the ingredients into the blender, I actually started to question “how is this going to work?” I understand that the oats were taking place of the flour (of which there is none) and I think it’s pretty cool that this is a gluten-free recipe. But there was no oil or melted butter, the only fat was in the cottage cheese. The baking powder and vanilla were normal for me (because I make pancakes on a weekly basis), but when I went to throw in a pinch of salt I had to stop myself… no salt in this recipe either! I figured the cottage cheese is probably salty enough and I started feeling healthier by the second. I have to confess- that I used three whole eggs as opposed to 6 egg whites. It was a calculated decision based on four things: firstly, I know from experience that it will add the same amount of moisture: secondly, the recipe did not call for me to whip the egg whites and gently fold them in, so although it may have been lighter I really didn’t feel I was messing with airy-ness: thirdly, I’m not worried about the amount of cholesterol I am eating, although I respect that as a healthy option: and lastly, I love my organic eggs, I don’t have any recipes in the line-up that call for yolks, and I didn’t want to waste them. But honestly all of this inner turmoil isn’t worth it! I did add the optional tablespoon of sugar- because that’s the kind of girl I am.

As I was heating up the griddle and watching my butter foam in readiness for the batter I actually got excited to see how this was going to turn out! And as I watched for the bubbles to cue me that it was time to flip the pancakes, I was happy to see the beautiful golden color that occurred on the first side! So far so good! As I moved my first round of pancakes to a side plate I had to pinch a piece off of one to see how this was going to taste. It was sweet, salty, and just like a pancake, except healthier and full of protein! It’s a delicious recipe and it even got more fun with all of the fresh fruit toppings!

For the original recipe and picture check out The Richmond Avenue

1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup oats
3 Tbsp almond or skim milk
6 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp sugar (optional)
Strawberries for topping (optional)
Blueberries for topping (optional)
Maple syrup for topping (“optional, but not really” – love that BTW!)

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and let it do its thing! Scoop 1/4 cup of the batter at a time on the prepared griddle (with butter or baking spray). Flip when you see the bubbles… Serve warm!
Enjoy! I know I sure did!

The Chef’s Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee is Owen’s all time favorite dessert. And I can’t argue with fabulous. It’s sweet, it’s creamy, it’s got a little sugary crunch… I could probably eat it on a regular basis. And despite its sophistication, it is actually not difficult to make. This recipe is from The Chef (aka my sister); if I can do it, you can do it.

Makes 7-9

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk, divided

1/2 vanilla bean

6 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

Strawberries and blueberries for topping (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine 1/2 cup milk, sugar and egg yolks. Set aside. Cut the vanilla bean in half (down the center) and scrape the seeds our of the bean pod with the point of the knife. Combine the vanilla beans, the vanilla pod, cream and the remaining 1/2 cup milk in a saucepan. Bring to a roiling boil. Remove boiling cream mixture from heat and temper with egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly (To temper: Add a little of the boiling mixture, whisking all the while, to egg mixture to get it to avoid curdling before adding the rest.) Return tempered mixture to the saucepan and continue cooking 1 more minute. Remove from heat and strain using a fine mesh sieve. Pour cream mixture evenly into the ramekins. Bake in a water bath (place ramekins in a baking dish with sides and surround them with water about half way up the sides of the ramekins) until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, and center is almost set, about 30 – 45 minutes.

Let the cream cool before spreading a thin, even layer of sugar on the top. Using a torch, evenly flame the sugar until brown and bubbly; creating a crust (brulee) on the top of your cream (creme).

Side note: I am also aware of people scorching their sugar in the oven, with a broiler. (But I have no experience with that.)

Place sliced strawberries and fresh blueberries on the top before serving if desired. Congratulations! Now you get to eat!

Another Side note: These can be made in advance. You can chill the desserts in the refrigerator ahead of time until ready to serve.

Homemade Strawberry Syrup

I am by no means a syrup manufacturer. In fact, like many times in my kitchen, I started this process with something else in mind. But it ended up with this sticky, sweet, berry-ful sauce that was delightful on pancakes, and probably delicious on ice cream. (I’ll have to try that today.)

Making strawberry syrup is relatively easy, as long as you have patience. (It’s a 2 day process.) I wanted to make gifts for a baby shower I was hosting, and being that the theme was strawberries it seemed like a perfect fit. Here is a how to guide from beginning to finish.

You will need:

5 pounds of strawberries; rinsed, dried, hulled and halved (at least the large ones)

5 pounds sugar

1/2 tsp salt

zest and juice of 1 medium lemon

large heavy bottomed pot

large spoon

2 full sized baking sheets (or large platters will do)

12- 8 oz jars with lids and rings, sterilized (I do this in a dishwasher, that’s how I roll.)

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material & ribbon for decorating (optional)

Rinsing and drying the berries is a step all on its own. Aren’t fresh strawberries gorgeous? I don’t think they have a bad angle. If you aren’t confident in food photography, take a picture of some strawberries in some natural light; in a bowl, on a plate, on a mound of dirt, you can’t go wrong.

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Place strawberries in the pot, making sure bottom is covered,(as much as possible) leaving no room for sugar to seep through. Pour lemon juice and sprinkle zest over berries. Next pour the sugar and salt on top of strawberries. (Sugar reaching the bottom of the pot too soon could burn. So don’t worry about mixing at this point, just let it sit on top.)

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On a very low setting let come to a boil, this could take about an hour. Remove foam and give a stir. Allow to simmer on low for 1-2 hours more watching for desired consistency. The longer it simmers, the more the syrup will reduce and thicken.

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Carefully pour syrup into baking sheets (or onto large platters). Skim off any foam, making for a more clear syrup. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to cool overnight. (I suppose you could start the same day after the syrup is cool enough to work with, but I like to break up the process. It also thickens as it cools.)

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Ladle the syrup into the sterilized jars. It’s really sticky. Getting it on you will is a lot like Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation, after he cut down the Christmas tree. You will notice you are sticking to things at random times throughout the day. Wipe the rims of the jars with a warm rag, if they have syrup on them. Then put lids and rings on tightly. Place the jars (in batches, 6 jars at a time or so is fine) in a pot of boiling water, making sure they are covered by about 1-2 inches. Just to be safe I had a kettle full of boiling water going, to add water if necessary. Boil 10 minutes (I recommend setting a timer, but I am easily distracted). Using long tongs or actual jar clamps remove to a wired rack covered by a kitchen towel. (At least that’s what I do.) Place the remaining jars into the boiling water and repeat process. The fun part is listening for the little “pops” as the jars seal! (I am easily amused.)

If you don’t hear all of the “pops,” it doesn’t mean the jars are not sealed. The next day I like to push down on the center. If it doesn’t give, it’s sealed! I know people who keep there jars for up to a year. If it does push down and pop back up, put in the fridge and use it first.

To decorate, you can buy pre-cut fabric, or make your own. You want to leave about 1- 1 1/2 inches beyond the edge of the rim. I used a small sauce pan lid to trace circles onto the fabric to match the theme of our occasion. To keep it from sliding off, I use a wide rubber band to hold fabric on the jar in place. Keeping the ribbon on the spool, I tie the ribbon around the jar, complete with bow. Then trim the ribbon. If satisfied, I untie the ribbon and use it as a measure to cut the rest. Tie the ribbon around the fabric on the jar and slide the rubber band down. Repeat until done. Label your jars and voila! You did it!

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Now dig in, you deserve it!

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Good Morning Smoothie

Everyone has a smoothie recipe, and for good reason. They’re fun, fast, flavorful, and full of healthy things. (How many f’s can you fit in a sentence?) Owen is big on smoothies these days; which is great for me because my breakfast is often made by the time I get up. That makes for a good morning! He loves to experiment with flavors, and usually with fresh fruit. However for this recipe we used a mixed frozen organic berry blend; my contribution for the days we are out of fresh berries. He also likes to blend in some granola, so often his concoctions have a little chew.

Serves 2 (large)

As organic as you can:

12 oz Vanilla protein drink

1 cup ice

2 cups frozen mixed berry blend

2 bananas

½ cup granola (such as Kind brand blueberry and vanilla)

2 Tbsp honey (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a blender, and let her rip. When all combined and liquid-y, pour into a glass! Easy as that!

You are getting a healthy dose of fruit and some protein in this drink, so I feel it’s rather healthy. However this is not necessarily low calorie… so my recommendation is to drink your breakfast, and not to serve this with your eggs and bacon. I like my smoothie a little sweet, so I added that option. Now go seize the day!

And although this all seems very specific, I am not trying to put a boundary on the time you drink your smoothie.

Strawberries and Cream-Cheese Cake

We love cream-cheese frosting. What’s not to love about cream-cheese frosting? The crux of the issue is that the cake had until this point taken a back seat. It was basically a vehicle to obtain something more desirable; just a means to an end. Then you take something as delicious and simple as strawberries and cream. It’s all about the berry… okay and the cream. Well let’s just put them both together and have something outstanding. We don’t need to limit ourselves to carrot and red velvet cake. Besides strawberries are gorgeous, and scream summer time! And who’s ready for that? I know I am! Oh, and the best part, you don’t have to worry about keeping it chilled all day.

As organic as you can:

Cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter (1 stick) softened

2 cups sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs (room temperature)

2 pints strawberries, rinsed, dried, stemmed and halved (includes berries for topping)

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 1/4 cup milk

Frosting:

1 8 oz. block of cream cheese

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) softened

2 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 x 1 1/2 inch round pans. (Side note: If you wanted to forgo the layers, you could totally do this in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Another side note: they make some great organic sprays for greasing your pans, otherwise do the classic thin even layer of butter and dusting of flour.)

In a medium bowl, add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk ingredients together. In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer. Add sugar and vanilla and beat (or cream) until smooth. Add 1 egg at a time, beating them in as you go. Add lemon juice and beat again. Next, alternately add dry ingredients and milk to the butter mixture; because it is a baking law. Just mix until combined.

Select about 5 of the berries and dice into small pieces. Then put those pieces on a plate (to catch juices that might escape on a cutting board,) and mash them with the back of a fork. Gently fold the berries into the batter. When all is combined, pour the batter equally into the two prepared cake pans.

Put the pans in the oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until you poke them in the center with a toothpick and it comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then, making sure they have separated from the sides of the pans (you can trace the sides of the pans with a knife to help this if they haven’t,) flip the cakes over on to the wire racks to cool. You should notice the cakes have a nice density, perfect to stand up to the rich frosting. You probably also noted the cakes are dotted with lovely bursts of berries, and you’re thinking “those are fantastic just like that!” (That’s if they released from your pans of course…) Just wait. Let them cool completely before frosting.

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To prepare the frosting, add cream cheese and butter into a mixing bowl. Using a mixer, beat together until entirely combined and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Sift the powdered sugar into the cream cheese/butter mixture about 1/2 cup at a time. (Side note: I emphasize the “sift” portion of this direction, because if you’ve ever tried to skip this detail for any recipe, you know that unsifted powdered sugar balls are near impossible to beat out.) After the first 2 1/2 cups of sugar are incorporated, check for frosting for sweetness. I prefer a balance to still taste the tang of the cream cheese, but if you like it a little sweeter, add the rest of the sugar.

Place one of your cakes on top of a cake stand or plate. (If one of them came out not as pretty as the other, use that one.) Using half of your frosting mixture, spread it out evenly over the top of the cake. Then using half of your halved strawberries, place them randomly and evenly flat side down on top of the frosting. Next place the second cake on top of the frosted and berried cake. Using the remainder of the frosting, repeat the process. Then take a step back and admire your work, because layered cakes topped with white fluffy frosting and berries are beautiful to look at.

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