Monthly Archives: May 2010

Grilled Strawberry and Shrimp Skewers with Fennel Slaw

Its summer time and the livin’ is easy.  Time to pull out those quick and light recipes that are just good, good, good to have on hand.  Last weekend, while dog sitting for some friends, I took a few minutes to relax with their cookbooks.  You know when you see a recipe that is just off kilter enough that it has to be either a big hit or a major bomb?  That’s exactly what went through my mind when I saw this.  Strawberries on the grill?  Really?  Really!

Grilling the strawberries doesn’t do anything magnificent to enhance the flavor, but it softens the berries which is a great textural contrast with the shrimp and fennel.  And, its just a nice change of pace.  The vinaigrette is a total keeper with its balance of sweet and bitter.  I’ll be looking for more ways to use this little ditty.

Grilled Strawberry and Shrimp Skewers with Fennel Slaw

adapted from California Home Cooking by Michele Anna Jordan

Ingredients:

Skewers

10 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes

20 to 30 prawns, at least 30U in size

2 baskets of strawberries, divided

1 cup Honey Pepper Vinaigrette  (recipe below)

1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced thin

1 TBS mint leaves, julienne

Vinaigrette

3 TBS rice vinegar

3 TBS balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup honey, warmed

1 shallot, minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 TBS freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup olive oil

Directions:

1.  Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegars and honey in a bowl, then stirring in the shallots, garlic, pepper and salt.  Whisk in the olive oil slowly until incorporated.

2.  Prepare a hot fire on the grill.

3.  Thread each skewer with 3 prawns and 2 whole strawberries.  Brush lightly with vinaigrette  on each side and place them on the grill.  Turn the skewers after 2 minutes and bush again with the vinaigrette.  Continue cooking until the prawns are pink and no longer translucent on the inside, about 2 more minutes.

4.  Add the mint to the remaining vinaigrette.  Quickly toss together the remaining strawberries, sliced, and the fennel, along with 1 to 2 TBS of the vinaigrette.

5.  Serve the shrimp and strawberry skewers alongside the fennel and strawberry slaw.

Notes:

  • This vinaigrette on the shrimp was simply magnificent!
  • Not being the biggest fan of fennel, I think the next time Napa cabbage may be a good substitute for the fennel.  It does have to be something with some crunch and heft.  Butter lettuce would not hold its own in this dish.

Lightish Asparagus Artichoke Dip

Ahhhh, the brew pub.  Sitting at the bar, eating snacks, enjoying the local brews, and catching up with my main man.  No dressing up in scratchy, uncomfortable outfits.  No making small talk with people you chose not to keep up with anyways.  No trying to update your dancing style from the 80’s while dancing to an 80’s cover band.  This weekend included such an evening, and while eating some deliciously cheesy artichoke dip, I figured that just perhaps make this my own with local asparagus and some calorie pinching techniques.

First of all, the asparagus in this needed to be clearly present.  Due to its more delicate flavor, the requisite jalapenos in most any cheesy in in our abode were 86’d.  While at Tachella Family Farm, I spotted a bag of small artichokes on the clearance table due to their browning tips.  Bingo … more fresh produce.  After all of the bother in preparation of the lovely thistles in the first trial, I’ll use frozen or canned artichoke hearts next time, as reflected in the actual recipe below.  The asparagus does need to be fresh.  It is all about the asparagus!  I used a Cooking Light recipe for Cheesy Spinach-Artichoke dip as the basis for this plan, then just winged it from there. Enjoy!

Lightish Asparagus Artichoke Dip

based on the Cheesy Spinach-Artichoke Dip recipe in Cooking Light, October 2004

Ingredients:

1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped

1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces or smaller (a food processor works well)

8 oz package cream cheese at room temperature

8 oz light sour cream

1/2 cup fat free mayonnaise

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup low fat milk

3 green onions including greens, finely sliced

1 TBS red wine vinegar

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Quickly cook the asparagus pieces in a pot of boiling water for 1 minute.  Rinse with cold water in a strainer to stop the cooking process then drain thoroughly to remove excess water.

3.  In a mixer, blend the cream cheese, sour cream, and mayonnaise on medium speed until smooth.  Add the Parmesan cheese, milk, green onions, red wine vinegar, black pepper and mix on low speed until blended.  Add the asparagus and artichokes and mix until just combined.

4.  Place artichoke mixture in a 1 to 1 1/2 quart baking dish, sprinkle with the cayenne pepper, and bake at 375 until cheese is melted and the mixture bubbles around the edges, about 30 t0 40 minutes.  Serve with pita or tortilla chips.

Notes:

  • I served this with tortilla chips, but it would be better with pita chips.  To make your own pita chips, cut each pita into two rounds, then into wedges.  (I like sixths)  Lay them on a baking sheet, rough side up.  Lightly spray with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes.  Delicious!
  • Why is is that every three years or so I have to relearn that cooking my own artichoke hearts is a big pain?  Also, it just breaks my heart to toss all of those lovely leaves in the process.
  • This is pretty vegetably, but I’m sure the you could even up the proportion of asparagus if you’d like.
  • This was the first time I’ve included red wine vinegar in a cheesy dip.  It was good!  But, I’m a gal who doesn’t shy away from vinegars, either.

Cherry Pie

Sometimes the smallest choices in word selection can make the largest difference in mind set.  “I don’t <insert verb here>” sounds so similar to “I will <insert verb here>” but is miles apart in mind set.

This year, the local cherries are ripe and ready for the picking a full week before the Memorial Day invasion of U-Pick crowds.  Deciding to take advantage of the situation, I tried to figure out what to cook with the cherries left after snacking on them endlessly all day.  Duck with a cherry sauce reduction?  Duck isn’t available in the local stores.  Cherry ice-cream?  Its crazy cold for some reason this week, so that doesn’t sound desirable (yet).  Cherry pie?  I don’t bake pies.

There you go.  “I don’t bake pies.”  But, the cherries are plentiful and I don’t have to fight crowds to get them.  What’s the worse thing that can happen?  I end up with ugly pastry crust and lovely, gooey cherries?  Life can be worse.  After a quick 180 in mindset, I decided that I DO bake pies as long as Marie Callender provides the crust.  I did, and so can you.

Cherry Pie

adapted from this Food Network Magazine recipe

Ingredients:

2 frozen pie crusts

6 cups pitted, halved Bing cherries

2 TBS quick-cooking tapioca

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 TBS water

1 TBS heavy cream

1 tsp sugar

Directions:

1.  Combine cherries tapioca, sugar, salt, vanilla, and water in a bowl, stirring gently to coat the cherries evenly.

2.  Pour berry mixture into one pie shell.  Lightly flour a work surface, invert the empty pie shell onto the surface, dust with flour, and roll out with a rolling pin to increase the diameter by 2 inches.  Gently place this dough over the pie filling.  Press the crust edges together and trim the excess.

3.  Place a foil-lined baking sheet on a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 450 degrees.  Wrap an oiled, wide band of foil around the pie edge to protect the crust.  Make slashes in the top of the crust; chill for 30 minutes.

4.  Reduce the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake the pie for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil band, brush the crust with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool before slicing.

Notes:

  • Confessional time.  While I did actually pick cherries once, I now buy them at the orchards already picked.  Now I simply relish the sheer joy in picking cherries that has kept me from repeating the event.
  • After brushing the crust with cream, the pie was ready in 25 minutes.
  • This is not your “Hey, Aunt Betty, my cherry pie is going to beat yours at the county fair” kind of pie.  Its more of a “Check this out, I can make a delicious cherry pie that 1) doesn’t use canned fruit, and 2) isn’t sickening sweet.”
  • Proud?  Heck yeah I’m proud!

Brentwood Strawberry Stands

There is nothing more glorious than the opening of the local strawberry stands!  It means Spring is officially showing up in the fields, our kitchens, and in our meals.  We are fortunate to have not one, not two, but three fantastic strawberry stands within a 5 mile radius.  These are each very low key, family run operations.  Nothing fancy at all.  Even calling the little buildings “stands” and not and “shacks” or more aptly named “lean to’s” is generous.  But oh, those strawberries are simply divine.  How far away are these strawberries shipped you ask.  Where is this fruit really grown?  Yeah, right out there behind the strawberry stand.  The field you are looking at right now.

The Stand on the Corner

Surely this business must have a name, but it isn’t clearly listed on their signs, so the locals just refer to it as “The Stand on the Corner.”  Everyone around here knows exactly what that means.  The fields are at the corner of Highway 4 and Byron Highway.  The family runs this stand along with another one on the east side of Stockton.   Watching their son grow up (he’s probably around 13 now) has been fun, and he’s been able to run the sales like a skilled businessman since 3rd grade or so.

Chan’s

Chan’s strawberry field and stand are over on Walnut Avenue.  As far as farm stands and U-Pick fruit, Walnut Avenue is like Main Street.  Fresh food is simple everywhere!  Chan’s does a great business with U-Pick strawberries and sights of families with young children in the fields are a sweet, common sighting.  As with all U-Pick outings, wear shoes that can handle a bit of dirt and mud.  Their farm stand sells their luscious berries along with onions harvested from the end of the strawberry rows and local asparagus.

Berry Best

Berry Best has been around for a few years, but is sure increasing their advertising with cute signs on all of the local roads.  They grow and harvest their strawberries right behind the strawberry stand.  Recently, I was talking with Rita, the matriarch of the business, about the lack of local strawberry vendors at the local farmers market.  Turns out she has applied to sell there for 3 years now, and was turned down each time.  Shameful!  I showed her one of the few local items from the market, Oaxacan cheese made by a family right in town.  She smiled and shared the memories of her grandmother making that very same type of cheese, pulling and pulling it into long strings, then rolling it into a ball.  Sure enough, when I sliced the cheese at home, that is exactly what was seen, long strings like Mozzarella rolled into a ball.  Lovely.

Three strawberry stands, each with the most fantastic sweet fruit you ever tasted, and all within five short miles from home.  Life is good!