Cakes, Desserts, Vegetarian

Strawberries

I will admit it.  I’ve been known to buy strawberries in the winter.  I’ve even convinced myself that they taste good.  But they don’t. 
Not compared to the lightly sugared local strawberries I ate last night on a pillowy little vanilla cupcake with whipped cream.  Not compared to the quart of strawberries I ate in the car on the way home to make the strawberry shortcake.  I love driving up the mountain from Morse’s in Somerset, doling out one perfect berry at a time to the little strawberry lovers in the backseat.  By the time we get home, there are stems and stains everywhere, and we really don’t care.  It helps that my car just reached the 300,000 kilometer milestone and that we live on a road so dusty that no one who lives there bothers to wash their vehicle.  Right about this week, strawberries will be everywhere in the Valley.  They will be lined up for sale from the back of pickup trucks and farmstands. They will be available, cheap, for those willing to spend the morning at one of the great U-Picks. But they may not be in your local grocery store.  All last season, our store had California berries for sale.  Wahhhhhhh.
I suggest totally pigging out on strawberries while they’re at their best because frozen or imported just ain’t the same. I love seeing the hand lettered posters advertising a “Strawberry Supper” at local church halls.  I imagined that it would be all-you-can-eat strawberry shortcake when I was little, but have since learned that a more sensible meal usually precedes the dessert.  That doesn’t mean that I won’t be making a meal out of it at home, though!  At the Cafe, we’ll be offering them in fresh salads, in a beautiful little Strawberry Cream Pie, and in Strawberry Shortcake. 

Vanilla Cupcakes for Shortcake
Usually I make biscuits or scones for shortcake, but these are easy and delicious! 
1 C. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 C. oil
1/2 C. water
1 1/4 C. flour (go ahead and use whole wheat if you like!)
1/4 t. salt
1 1/8 t. baking powder
1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Beat sugar and eggs, than add remaining ingredients and beat for 1 minute. Evenly divide between 12 muffin cups. Bake about 15 minutes, until skewer inserted in middle comes out clean.
Split each cupcake in half and top with lightly sugared sliced strawberries (how many is completely your call) and a little whipped cream. Repeat the layers, lick the spoon and serve!

Strawberry Cream Pie
Once you’ve eaten your fill of strawberry shortcake, try this. It’s a little more complicated, but it’s worth it. It’s inspired by a recipe from the now-defunct Gourmet magazine.

1 baked graham crust in a pie pan
2 lb strawberries, hulled
1/3 cup sugar (use Just Us!)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/2 C. whipping cream, lightly whipped

Select 20 large strawberries as close to same size as possible and set aside. Cut remaining berries into 1/4-inch dice and toss with sugar and lemon juice. Let stand, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Drain berries in a sieve set into a large glass measuring cup. Add enough water to measure 2 cups. Transfer liquid to a medium saucepan and reserve berries.
Sprinkle gelatin over strawberry liquid and let soften 1 minute. Bring to a bare simmer, stirring until gelatin has dissolved. Add diced berries, then transfer to a metal bowl set into an ice bath and stir frequently until mixture begins to mound, 20 to 30 minutes. Fold in the whipped cream.
Spoon 1/2 cup filling into piecrust and arrange reserved whole berries, stem ends down, on filling. Spoon remaining filling over and between berries. Chill pie until filling is set, at least 4 hours.