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Micro Greens, Avocado and Strawberries

micro green saladMicro greens are sprouting up everywhere (pardon the pun) from local farmers’ markets to specialized food shops.  What are they, you ask?  Think of tiny seedlings bursting into young greens from vegetables and herbs.  Micro greens are typically one-inch to two-inches in height.  Although little in size, they tout an intense flavor but not as strong as mature greens and herbs.  In restaurants you’ll notice them as a garnish on food.  Are micro greens the same as sprouts?  Continue Reading →

Strawberry Pavlova

Strawberry PavlovaIt’s officially Summer (yay!) although it still feels like Spring here in the Maritimes. A good indicator that we might be leaving the cold behind is the sighting of fresh, local strawberries. I spotted them at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, Pete’s and other grocery retailers over the weekend.  I grew up in the country and there were always chores both indoors and outdoors that had to be done (insert whine here).  But one I liked the best was picking wild strawberries in my grandparent’s fields – a little for me, a little for the box.  My siblings and I would pick so that my paternal grandmother could make her strawberry jam; a favorite my grandfather enjoyed.  As I got older, I used to go to u-pick farms and continue my tradition – a little for me, a little for the box.  I don’t have the yearning as I did to pick my own but I do take delight in seeing the first strawberries of the season.  Still fresh on my mind of the Eton Mess I made a couple of weeks ago, I decided that these local strawberries deserved a bit of attention and made strawberry pavlova.  Pavlova is basically a meringue cake with a delicate crust and marshmallow center.  Once the cake is made, softly whipped cream and fresh fruit is added.  It’s a dessert that each component can be made ahead of time and assembled at the last moment.

Serves 6 to 8
3 large egg whites
1 teaspoon cornstarch (corn flour)
3/4 cup superfine (castor) sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 pint strawberries (or more), hulled and sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar or according to taste
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, whipped
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300f.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and using a dinner plate draw a 9-inch circle on the parchment paper (flip parchment over).  Place strawberries and sugar in a bowl and stir to combine.  Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

fresh local strawberriesIn a large bowl beat egg whites (using a balloon whisk attachment) on medium speed until soft peaks are formed.  Add sugar a tablespoon at a time and continue to beat on high speed until thick and glossy.  The meringue is done when it holds stiff peaks.  Sprinkle in cornstarch, vinegar, vanilla and gently fold into the meringue (the vanilla and vinegar will give the pavlova a crust that is crisp with a soft marshmallow center).  Pinch some of the meringue between your thumb and finger and rub it. It should feel silky not gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers.  And don’t worry about over-beating the meringue; once the sugar is added you can’t over-beat it.

Spoon mixture inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper. Working from the center, spread mixture toward the outside edge. Bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off, open the door ajar, and allow meringue to cool in the oven.  Once cool, place pavlova on a serving dish, spoon over whipped cream and top with the strawberries.

Strawberry PavlovaThe Culinary Chase’s Note:
Separate the eggs when cold but let the egg whites come to room temperature before beating.  Superfine sugar dissolves faster than granulated sugar.  If you don’t have superfine sugar in your pantry, use a food processor until process until powdery.  Make sure the bowl (and whisk) you use is ultra clean.  Any residue of fat/grease no matter how miniscule will cause the egg whites to deflate.  Use a glass or stainless steel bowl but never a plastic one as it can harbor traces of hidden fat from previous uses.

Eton Mess

Eton Mess by The Culinary ChaseIf you haven’t heard of Eton Mess, you’re in for a real treat!  It’s an English dessert, served in the food hall at Eton College, and is a mixture of strawberries, broken meringue and whipped cream.  It’s so easy to make and a perfect dish for those novices wanting to try baked meringue…and don’t worry if the meringue collapses or weeps – no one will notice once they take a bite.  This dessert is perfect for entertaining as it only needs to be assembled at the last minute.  I made the Eton mess on Saturday as we had friends over for a barbecue.  Our back deck overlooks a small field that has a dozen or so apple trees.  The blossoms inspired me to create a simple, easy-going meal followed by a casual yet simply delicious dessert.

strawberries, hulled and chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
store-bought or homemade meringue (recipe below)
softly whipped cream

Homemade Meringue –
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cups superfine white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

apple treesPreheat oven to 300f (150c). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and using a dinner plate draw a 9-inch circle on the parchment paper.

In a large bowl beat the egg whites (using a whisk attachment) on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they hold soft peaks. Add sugar, a bit at a time, and continue to beat until thick and glossy. Fold in the vanilla extract. The meringue is done when it holds stiff peaks. Pinch some of the meringue between your thumb and finger and rub it.  It should feel silky not gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers.

Spoon mixture inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper. Working from the center, spread mixture toward the outside edge.  Bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off, open the door ajar, and allow meringue to cool in the oven.

apple blossoms by The Culinary Chase

nature’s own centerpiece

While meringue is in the oven, toss strawberries with sugar and allow to sit at room temperature.  You may need to adjust the amount of sugar depending upon how sweet the strawberries are.

To assemble, crumble meringue in a dish followed by whipped cream and strawberries.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:
This dish is so light and airy.  Its presentation doesn’t need to be fussed with whether you fold in the ingredients or layer it.  If you have any leftover meringue, it will keep in an air-tight container for several days.  Enjoy!

Strawberry Granita

fresh strawberry granitaSummer brings a host of welcomed changes…longer days, warmer sunshine, fresh fruits and vegetables, being outdoors more, freshly cut lawns, pretty flowers, outdoor social gatherings, and birds singing.  When the temperature soars, it’s time to cool down and a favorite of mine is homemade granita.  Originating in Sicily, granita is a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and flavorings.  It’s the perfect remedy for a hot summer’s day.

A Summer Day
by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The dawn laughs out on orient hills
And dances with the diamond rills;
The ambrosial wind but faintly stirs
The silken, beaded gossamers;
In the wide valleys, lone and fair,
Lyrics are piped from limpid air,
And, far above, the pine trees free
Voice ancient lore of sky and sea.
Come, let us fill our hearts straightway
With hope and courage of the day.

Noon, hiving sweets of sun and flower,
Has fallen on dreams in wayside bower,
Where bees hold honeyed fellowship
With the ripe blossom of her lip;
All silent are her poppied vales
And all her long Arcadian dales,
Where idleness is gathered up
A magic draught in summer’s cup.
Come, let us give ourselves to dreams
By lisping margins of her streams.

Adown the golden sunset way
The evening comes in wimple gray;
By burnished shore and silver lake
Cool winds of ministration wake;
O’er occidental meadows far
There shines the light of moon and star,
And sweet, low-tinkling music rings
About the lips of haunted springs.
In quietude of earth and air
‘Tis meet we yield our souls to prayer.

Serves 4 to 6
4 cups ripe strawberries, washed and sliced
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

sliced strawberriesIn a bowl, combine strawberries and sugar. Let this sit for 30 minutes or longer to enhance the flavors. Add water and purée strawberries. Adjust according to taste; you may need to add more sugar or more lime juice if too sweet. Strain to remove seeds and pour strained mixture into a glass lasagna pan. Freeze until mixture is frozen (about 1 1/2 hours), stirring edges into center every 20 to 30 minutes. Use a fork to scrape granita into flaky crystals.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: For an adult version, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of vodka.  Enjoy!