strawberry

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)

Paintbox Mum’s Simple Jammy Muffins

To be honest when I started this particular project I had something specific in mind. Not only did the recipe sound simple enough and sure to taste yummy, but it came with the cutest picture of a little girl in a polk-a-dot apron adding jam to the muffin batter. So of course, I wanted to replicate the moment with my little ones, in their aprons (note to self get polk-a-dot aprons). However, my sister asked that my kids stay at her house last night- as a last little enjoy the summer while it’s still here hoorah! And it ended up that I made these sweet little muffins alone (alone meaning without help because I still had to entertain my nine month old in his high chair, and move around my husband getting his morning coffee for work, etc.) But still it was more quiet than my usual morning, which was a different enjoyment than I had anticipated but still a nice occurrence.

The ingredients I already had on hand, which is always a bonus when you want to make a little something special and it is actually a possibility! It took a little preparation in that I had to convert the grams of flour and sugar into my standard cups (which I have included in this post). Easily enough my measuring cup had both units of measure, mLs and cups, and a Tbsp is a tablespoon across the board (or pond). Since I am a baker at heart, I thoroughly enjoyed hiding a little treasure of jam in the center of each cup of batter. Furthermore I would like to mention that I was delighted at the reference of “cake cases” instead of my standard boring “cups”. How pleasant! I’m going to try to incorporate that into my use of a muffin pan from now on.

The result was a delicious muffin/biscuit and jam hybrid. (And was really good with a little pat of softened butter!) It was a perfect breakfast package with my cup of coffee and I can’t wait to experiment with other jams, and my helpers!

Simple Jammy Muffins by Paintbox Mum

1 2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup caster sugar (fine white sugar)
1 pinch of salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
2/3 cup milk
2 eggs
5 Tbsp melted butter
8 Tbsp jam (we both used strawberry)

Preheat the oven to 375º (190º C). Combine the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl combine the wet. Add the wet to dry. Spoon half the batter into the “cake cases,” make a well in the center and add a dab (approx 1/2 Tbsp) of jam to each cup. Top each muffin with the other half of the batter and bake for 20 minutes.

This is the first of my “WordPress Cooking Challenge” recipes to make from other inspiring bloggers! There are so many great recipes out there and I encourage you to try some! For the original recipe and the adorable picture of the little girl in her apron visit Paintbox Mum!

And thanks to Healthy in All Hues for this great idea!

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.)

ladle

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.

IMG_5356

IMG_5363

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.)

IMG_5372

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.

IMG_5381

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.)

IMG_5385

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!

IMG_5493

Now dig in, you deserve it!

IMG_5719

Sprinkling Annie

After having a baby shower, among our group of friends (and I know we’re not alone), we started doing this thing where we throw an event for having a baby, every baby. Since it’s not really a shower because they’ve already had their first shower, with their first baby, we call it a ‘Sprinkle.’ The mom-to-be (again) already has the big items they need, so mostly this consists of buying a cute new outfit for the baby, and getting together to celebrate (and eat)! It’s especially nice, as in this case when the first baby was a boy, and now Annie is having a girl. So getting some pink into the wardrobe is fun!

Here is a picture of the handsome big brother.

IMG_5551 - Copy

The theme of the shower was strawberries. They are fresh and sweet (like babies) and perfect for outdoor gatherings this time of year. Such a nice punch of color against the greenery! My mother made the centerpieces, strawberry plants, also doubling as door prizes.

IMG_5550

We ate brunch style foods, pancakes with homemade strawberry syrup, sausages, danishes, muffies (aka muffin tops), and cheesy egg and sausage casseroles (so good)!

IMG_5532

IMG_5518

IMG_5506

We dubbed the parting gifts after the baby girl (to-be), Hannah’s Strawberry Syrup (the same syrup the guests enjoyed at the party).

IMG_5493

IMG_5541

Of course the cake had to be strawberry too! And had to be washed down with strawberry lemonade, naturally.

IMG_5486

IMG_5484

We also featured a smoothie bar (including but not limited to Hannah-Banana smoothies) and iced coffee drinks.

IMG_5503

IMG_5502

A picture of the fam; mom, brother and dad…

IMG_5523

We can’t wait to meet you baby Hannah!!

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.

IMG_4836

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.

IMG_4948