Strawberries really signal summer to me.
Probably the most popular way people enjoy strawberries other than eaten straight from the hand is strawberry shortcake. When I make shortcake, I like to mix some minichocolate chips into my dough for a delicious change.
But for a superimpressive strawberry fete, try Fresh Strawberry Cloud Cake. Some of the strawberry filling is swirled into the cake batter and the rest is spread between the four layers. The whole cake is then frosted with lemon whipped cream.
Strawberries have multiple possibilities on the non-dessert side, too. I pair them with thin slivers of sweet Walla Walla onion and glazed almonds in a spinach salad, then add a low-fat poppy seed dressing thickened with pureed strawberries. It makes a light and refreshing summer salad.
Parfaits get a new twist, too - as breakfast. Vanilla yogurt, strawberries and granola are fun when layered in an oversized martini glass - a perfect summer eye-opener.
And who can resist fresh strawberry lemonade while sitting in the warm summer sun? You can even add a splash of vodka or gin for a delightful tall drink, a refreshing relief from the ubiquitous strawberry daiquiri.
If you’re feeling a bit on the cutting edge, you might want to try splashing a little balsamic vinegar on a bowl of berries. Really, it’s good!
Fresh Strawberry Cloud Cake
4 cups fresh strawberries (1 pounds), stemmed
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup butter
1 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely minced lemon zest
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
4 egg whites
Extra whole strawberries for garnish, optional
1-1/2 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons finely minced lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Place 2 cups strawberries in blender with 2 tablespoons water and puree until smooth. Transfer puree to medium, heavy saucepan along with sugar and cinnamon. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Cook at slow simmer 1 minute.
Mix together remaining 2 tablespoons water and cornstarch in small bowl until smooth, then slowly whisk into simmering mixture. Reduce heat to low and cook about 1 minute until thickened. Remove from heat.
Coarsely chop remaining 2 cups strawberries and fold into hot cooked strawberry mixture. Set aside until needed, or cool and refrigerate if making a day in advance.
Butter or pan-spray and flour 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Cream butter and 1 cup sugar in mixing bowl along with vanilla and lemon zest. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk to creamed mixture, stirring until smooth, then transfer to large bowl.
Whip egg whites in separate bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in remaining 1/3 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Mix a fourth portion of the beaten egg whites into cake batter to lighten it, then gently fold in remaining egg whites.
Divide cake batter evenly between prepared cake pans. Top each cake with 1/3 cup cooled compote, swirling it over batter. Bake at 350 degrees 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and let cool on rack.
Whip cream and powdered sugar in deep bowl until soft peaks form. Whisk in lemon zest and juice.
To assemble, be sure cakes are cool, then split each cake into 2 layers with long serrated knife. Flip one layer, cut-side up, on large plate or cake stand. Spread 1/3 of remaining strawberry compote over top, leaving a 1/2-inch space around edge of cake. Top with second cake layer and spread cut side with another third of filling mixture. Repeat with third layer. Place fourth layer on top, cut-side up.
Frost cake with lemon whipped cream, starting with top and then sides. Chill until ready to serve. Garnish top of cake with tiny strawberries with few stems and tendrils attached.
Yield: About 8 servings.
Spinach and Strawberry Salad With Glazed Almonds and Low-Fat Poppyseed Vinaigrette
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup sliced strawberries
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
2 bunches spinach, stemmed, washed well and spun dry (about 8 cups)
2 cups strawberries, stemmed and halved or quartered, depending upon size
1/2 cup thinly sliced Walla Walla or other sweet onions
Process vinegar, strawberries and ginger in blender or food processor until pureed.
Combine mustard and honey in bowl. Whisk in pureed strawberry mixture and then slowly whisk in oil, emulsifying dressing until smooth. Stir in poppy seeds. Refrigerate until needed.
Lightly pan-spray baking sheet and set aside. Place almonds and sugar in nonstick skillet over high heat and stir with wooden spoon; sugar will start to dissolve and then caramelize. Stir continuously to lightly toast almonds and coat with sugar.
When almonds and sugar are color of dark amber and golden brown, quickly remove from pan onto sprayed baking sheet. Spread out with spoon and let cool completely. Break into pieces. (Do not touch sugar or almonds with fingers when cooking or immediately after cooking; molten sugar is very hot.)
Place spinach in large salad bowl. Toss with strawberries, onions and about 1/2 cup vinaigrette. Sprinkle glazed almonds on top. Reserve extra vinaigrette for another use or serve on side.
Yield: 6 servings.
Strawberry Yogurt and Granola Breakfast Parfaits
1 pint fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar, optional
3/4 cup purchased granola or Homemade Nutty Granola (recipe follows)
1-1/4 cups low-fat or fat-free vanilla yogurt
Reserve 2 small strawberries and cut them in half with the stem on for garnish. Slice remaining strawberries and combine in small bowl. Add sugar and toss gently.
Select 4 oversized martini glasses, or substitute large balloon wine glasses or parfait glasses. Layer ingredients in each glass in this order: 1 tablespoon granola, 1/4 cup yogurt, 1/4 of the sliced strawberries, 2 tablespoons granola; dollop 1 tablespoon yogurt on top and garnish with 1 strawberry half.
Yield: 4 servings.
Homemade Nutty Granola
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sliced almonds, chopped
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
Combine oats, wheat germ, walnuts, almonds, pecans and sunflower seeds in large bowl.
Combine butter, brown sugar, honey, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in small saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Bring to boil. Immediately pour over oat mixture, stirring to coat all ingredients well. Spread on shallow baking sheet Bake at 300 degrees 25 to 30 minutes or until crispy. Cool. Store in tightly covered container.
Yield: About 4 cups.
Sparkling Strawberry Lemon-Lime-Ade
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 cups stemmed and sliced strawberries
2/3 cup sugar
3 cups soda water
6 lime slices/wheels for garnish
6 whole strawberries for garnish
Process lemon and lime juices, strawberries and sugar in blender until smooth. Pour puree into pitcher. Stir in soda water.
Serve in large glasses filled with ice. Garnish each glass with lime wheel and strawberry with small slit in side to stick on the edge of the glass.
Yield: About 6 servings.
MEMO: Chef Kathy Casey is a restaurant consultant and food writer in Seattle.
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