Thursday, June 28, 2007

Strawberry Syrup

As a child growing up, I enjoyed reading The Little House On The Prairie books. I was amazed at what they did to survive. A child of the Seventies, all I knew were supermarkets. Sure, my parents and grandparents told me stories about how it was when they were growing up but stories about the someone getting the first car or TV in the neighborhood didn’t compare to the seemingly outlandish concept of having to hunt and grow everything you were going to eat for the next year. My young mind fell in love with the concept of being able to make my own maple syrup. We had maple trees in the front yard, we could do it too, right? Luckily my parents put a quick end to that concept before the maple trees in our yard and the red maple trees in the other yards were harmed. But I still had the dream.
When I grew up, I’m going to have lots of land with lots of maple trees and I’m going to make my syrup! Alas, that dream has yet to come to fruition. I live in an exurb of Chicago, surrounded by strip malls and townhomes. Yeah, there is a maple tree in one of the common areas but I think if I stuck a tap in it and hung a bucket, it would probably end up bent over like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Come to think of it, there’s probably something in the bylaws of homeowners association against it too.
However, despite the lack of maple trees and an angry homeowners association, I can still make my own syrup. The farmer’s market season started here about two weeks ago and there is a great selection of fruit. Containers of cherries and blueberries were at most of the stands and this week strawberries started making an appearance. Besides being just plain good to eat, they work well in jellies and jams, but they also make very good syrups.

Strawberry Syrup
Yields about 3 cups

1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
1 Tbls. lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 Tbls. cold water

In a 2-quart saucepan combine the strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, and corn syrup and bring to a simmer over medium heat. As this mixture heats up, mix the water and the cornstarch and stir until the cornstarch dissolves. Once the syrup simmers, add the cornstarch slurry. Continuously stir until the syrup starts simmering again and goes from cloudy to clear. If the berries are not broken down enough, use an immersion blender or run through a fine-mesh strainer before serving. Serve warm.

- Other berries like blackberries and raspberries work as well. Strain for seeds before serving.
- Rhubarb adds a nice touch as well. Use 3/4 cup rhubarb and 3/4 cup strawberries. Start the syrup using the rhubarb first and then add the strawberries once the rhubarb is tender.

All pictures are from the morgueFile archive.

Also appearing at Sugar Savvy and featured on the Well Fed Network.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Pistachio and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast

My favorite meal of the day has to be breakfast. More times than not I'm having something for lunch or dinner that most people would consider breakfast. 'Breakfast served all day' is my 'cellar door'. Eggs, bacon, pancakes, waffles, omelets, what-have-you are the meals I cook most during the week. A real treat though, is French toast.

For Father's Day I was able to make this breakfast for my parents. I had made it a couple of weeks earlier and my girlfriend and I loved it. I believe the key is thick bread and a good, long soak in a custard-like mixture of eggs and cream. I see these recipes calling for 4 or 5 eggs and equal amounts of milk, just enough to cover several slices of sandwich bread. Make those recipes and you're missing out on how truly wonderful French toast is meant to be!

Pistachio and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast

Makes about 5-6 servings

1 loaf bread, sliced in 1" slices - I have used challah (slightly staled) and 'Italian peasant', both worked well
12 eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 Tbls. vanilla
1 1/2 cups strawberries
sprinkles of cinnamon
sprinkles of nutmeg
1 1/4 cups pistachios

Beat the eggs and then add the heavy cream and vanilla and mix well. Slice the bread into 1 inch slices. If the egg mixture isn't in a dish big enough to soak several slices of bread, move it to a dish that can. Soak the bread in the egg mixture for 5 to 10 minutes, flipping the bread halfway through. Dice the strawberries while the bread is soaking. Place a layer of bread slices in a 9" by 13" greased pan. Use a spoon to press down on the bread and form a little indentation and then spoon the strawberries onto the bread. Place another layer of soaked bread on top, forming 'sandwiches'. Press down slightly on the tops slices to compress the 'sandwiches', just enough so there is no gap between the slices. Sprinkle lightly with nutmeg and then cinnamon. Crush the pistachios and place on the prepared french toast 'sandwiches' liberally. Bake in a preheated oven at 350° F for 40 to 45 minutes.

Serve with real maple syrup and butter.

Variations -

  • Use your favorite jams or other fruit for the filling.

  • This can be made into a savory dish by leaving out the cinnamon and nutmeg and using something like caramelized onions or spinach.

  • Try using cinnamon rolls instead of bread.

  • All pictures are from the morgueFile archive.

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    So I've been busy...

    The end of the quarter is always a busy time for me at work. Our bonuses are based on what we did in a quarter so there is a lot of people working late trying to get credit for as much as possible. Including me.

    We had Lorrie's mom here for awhile and my parents stopped down too. I haven't had a ton of time to bake but I tried a couple recipes. No pictures, they were test batches. The first was the Ice Box Crunch recipe of my grandmother's. I made two types: fig and cherry. OK, I have to admit, other than fig Newtons, I don't think I've had figs before. Actually, I don't think I've even seen figs before. I was walking through a local Polish market and they had figs so I picked some up to try. Not bad. I understand the grit in Fig Newtons now: seeds. The cherries were some organic sweet cherries from Target. The fillings were basically the fruit with some sugar, heated to create a bit of syrup. I did use an immersion blender on the figs but I left the cherries like they were. I like how it turned out, I need to do this again. The second recipe is from my great-grandmother. It was an excellent rhubarb cake. The recipe was basically a list of ingredients, that's it. I do plan on doing this again and will go into more detail about the recipe in that post.

    You may notice some changes here. First, I've added the Foodie Blog Roll. It's been a boon to this site, bringing in all kinds of people. Second, I've been kinda keeping this a 'dessert' blog but I think I'm going to include more under the 'Et Cetera' part of the blog and include the other food related things I do. Possibly, in the near future, there may be a site redesign too. Not sure about that yet.

    Lastly, I glad Top Chef is back on. Shear Genius just wasn't doing it for me.

    May 2007 Just Baking Update

    My "Look, I post somewhere else" round-up of posts I did as editor at Just Baking in May 2007.

    May 2 - Video Learning: How to Make a Wedding Cake - Shannon Pridgen, owner of Heavenly Crumbs Bakery in Brooklyn, NY, and Shelly Everett, owner of The Gourmet Angel Catering, show how to make a lemon wedding cake with buttercream frosting, start to finish.

    May 3 - King Arthur Flour Online Baking Classes - King Arthur Flour offers many baking classes.

    May 10 - Home Baking Association - A non-profit organization promoting home baking.

    May 15 - Video Learning: Puff Pastry - Let's learn how to make puff pastry!

    May 16 - Emmer and Einkorn - Ancient wheats.

    May 25 - Video Learning: Baking a Pie - I love my videos.

    OK, come to Just Baking. We have some incredible writers and it's shaping up to be our best month yet!

    *Update* - As Just Baking no longer exists, I have removed the actual links but left the post names as a source for ideas