Sunday, June 29, 2008

Secret Strawberry Society, Plus Shortcake

(Still no camera, so taking pictures with my computer when I can.)

Please scroll down for recipe!

Yesterday I went to Thompson Finch Farm in Ancram, NY, for the second time this strawberry season. One of the best things about living in the Berkshires is being able to enjoy the great of variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables all grown within the area. At the top of my most-enjoyable list are strawberries, peas (sugar snap and snow), and tomatoes (especially heirloom, but let's hold off on praising them until they're actually available). I get most of my vegetables from my favorite farm share at CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm Girl Farm, located in Egremont, MA. In our first share of the season we always get a few stalks of rhubarb, hence my first venturing into strawberry-picking.

I love sit out in the open fields and pick strawberries. The first time I picked at least 10 lbs. While I was there, the weather became slightly gray and breezy but lovely in mind, the cloud cover and light drizzle giving relief from the hot sun. The second time I picked over 13 lbs of strawberries, perhaps just because I could, not to mention the price and flavor can't be beat by store-bought varieties. The picking went much more quickly the second time around as the larger varieties are now in season, though I prefer the smaller ones.

Why so many strawberries? Well, asides from the facts that I love strawberries, I love to bake, and I love eating fruits and vegetables when they're available fresh from the vine, there's something magical and mystifying about walking on forever through fields of one kind of small thing. There's a whole little world down there beneath all the fringed-leaves resting on clusters of thin stems. It's a sad story when one comes upon a great King Strawberry, a single-bruise past his prime. In search of trivia I asked one of the girls working at the farm if there were any little-known facts about strawberries. She just replied, "You mean what kind of varieties there are?" Personally I think she was bluffing, staying true to the strict codes of the Secret Strawberry Society. So I moved on out into the rest of the world, wondering if I'd have another chance to return before this season's Strawberry Kingdom fades into the mist.


Here's the recipe I came up with yesterday after picking strawberries and hopping over Bash Bish Falls on my way home to cool off:

I used two 9" pans, and poured a little extra batter into three heart-shaped ones to give away, but the batter could have easily fit into both.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup yogurt
5 cups pastry flour
3 tbs. baking powder
1 cup fresh orange juice
orange zest (a tablespoon?)

425˚F about 25 min., or until golden brown. Rotate pans if necessary.

WHIPPED CREAM (Make on day two, or right before assembling):
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla (or splash)

I assembled the cake on the second day, layering left-over strawberry sauce from the below chocolate cake recipe with lots of fresh sliced strawberries mixed in and a little extra sugar.

Sara and Jessica prepare to eat cake with pistachio ice cream.

If you bake a white cake versus a chocolate cake, it's much more obvious if you don't center pans or rotate them in the oven, especially if you're using a poor old electric ovem. You can really tell if a flourless chocolate cake is not perfectly baked all the way round, but a white one will show inconsistent coloration and the texture is more or less wet or dry.

If you want to make chocolate curls by using a vegetable peeler and a bar of chocolate, it works best on a hot summer day. You don't even need to try and soften the chocolate by sticking it on top of the fridge or what ave you. Using a bar that has greater indentations gives a cool scalloped-edge look. I only had a bar of toffee chocolate, so although my curls broke up easily because of the small bits of toffee, it added a cool flecked-effect.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Easy Choclate White Currant Cake

First of all, the photo is a lie. My camera decided to leave this world therefore forcing me to use an old photo of Melissa's b-day cake. Hers was actually the beginning of the flourless chocolate cake series, only the following recipe has some coconut flour in it.

I don't know if I've actually improved this recipe, or if chocolate cake is just completely fail-proof, but this recipe is based on the flourless chocolate cake I've been making and altering for the last year or two. Couldn't find my springform pan so used my 7.5"W x 3."D pan = rich chocolaty center! It's actually better if the cake doesn't cook all the way through to the middle, allowing for a mousse-like center. I've also made this cake in a wider, shallow pan which gives more of a "brownie-like" result.

You can do two different pans and make a layer cake, or pour some of the batter into mini heart pans of muffin tins for variation. Melissa's has a glaze on it.


Grease cake pan(s), whichever ones you have around.
DO NOT FORGET TO LINE PARCHMENT PAPER IN BOTTOM OF PAN! Makes all the difference in getting the cake out, especially if you use a deeper pan. Coat the sides with cocoa powder instead of flour.

About 1/2 cup cocoa powder (ran out of so used coconut flour, otherwise full cup!)
1 1/2 cups coconut flour (or whatever cocoa powder-flour ratio you want to use) (or no flour)
1 1/4 cups sugar
A few handfuls gooseberries (I was out of red currants) (or raspberries)

Pinch salt

4 duck eggs (or 6 and eliminate chicken eggs)
2 chicken eggs (or 8 and eliminate duck eggs)
Beat eggs lightly, then add
A splash of vanilla

1 cup (or less) Earth Balance spread
12 oz chocolate (easier to use the entire package!)
Melt until smooth.

Add melted chocolate-butter mix to mixer, beat lightly until smooth.
Add dry mix gradually at medium speed until you have a thick, full batter. I usually give a few quick pulses at a higher speed.

About 40 min at 350˚F
You don't want to over do it. The cake will be better on the second day! Leave it alone if you can, and expect the knife to come out coated in chocolate. It is 12oz of melted chocolate after all.

To go on top. Filled med. sauce pan w/ frozen stawberries (I had picked them two weeks earlier) plus a little water and a little arrowroot powder and maybe 1/4 cup sugar. Cooked until thick.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Oscar the Parrot

Though he simply refuses to do personal interviews, I was finally able to convince Oscar to receive at least one phone call. Unfortunately he didn't have much to say to me the way he usually does.

Oscar filling in for the microwave. Notice how I do not press any buttons.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Florida Vacation II

Day 5:
A long eventful day! Some morning shopping followed by a trip to the Brevard Zoo, mostly to see the aviary. Otherwise I have mixed feelings about animals in captivity. Rainbow lorikeets in the aviary flying and hopping around everywhere. Took a few videos. They were hysterical and made the trip worthwhile.

The rest of the day spent at the beach. The water was perfect. Came home to make dinner and go for another evening bike ride. The only day so far we didn't go to the pool at least once. Only one more full day left....

Day 6:
The beach.

And after dinner, one more final swim at the pool.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Florida Vacation

Well, I am practically computerless (as my great uncle's computer is of the prehistoric age when it comes to speed) and I have no means to upload all my vacation photos, but here's a brief synopsis of what I've been up to in Florida with my mom:

Now with photo updates, 6/11/08

Day 1:
Easy flight, arrive in Orlando. Go to Whole Foods to retrieve potentially edible Florida food only to discover the store has been closed down. Seek mediocre alternative options, met with some success. Eventually make it down to my great aunt and uncle's house by early evening just in time for a swim at pool #3.

Day 2:
Find better health food store. Lacking kale an other decent produce but otherwise some good finds. Find second health food store that makes yummy smoothies with FRESH coconut! More swimming at pool #3.

Pontoon ride and bird watching tour on the Indian River near the Sebastian Inlet led by the Environmental Center. Lovely and informative ride around Pelican Island. More swimming, only this time at pool #1 which we have all to ourselves.

Day 3:

Drive down to Winter Park and surrounding area to visit my mom's old friends, including her high school biology teacher. We all go to the The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art to see the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (son of "Tiffany's"). Facinating pieces, but I'm surprised to discover I almost prefer his work as a painter. Additional suprises include an Alfonse Mucha lithograph called La Plume and Maxfield Parrish's The Dinky Bird painting.

Day 4:
Get up early to go kyacking on the Indian River, again via the Environmental Center. Paddle about 5mi. in three hours with a trip around an island filled with hundreds of birds and their nests. The sounds coming from the island are unbelievable. Mom overcomes fear of kyacks and we both experience the wildlife viewing highlight of our lives by paddling within 15 feet of multiple white ibis nests, filled with baby birds.

Botanical Gardens. Lots of waterlilies, bamboo, spanish moss, palm trees, etc...

Bike ride. More swimming. Tomorrow hopefully brings my favorite.....: The Beach.