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    Strawberry Shortcake

    While we’re not quite at that time of year here in Maine, it is that time … STRAWBERRIES! I love strawberries just hulled and sliced with a bit of sugar and balsamic vinegar. Though I have made Dark Chocolate Strawberry Ice Cream and Strawberry Limeade, if I had to add strawberries to a recipe, my all time fav would be Strawberry Shortcake.

    When Fantastical Food Fight announced April’s spatula down to be Strawberry Shortcake I was delighted! I changed up my Grandmother’s Biscuits a tiny bit to make them sweet, not savory and simply sliced up some strawberries and let them macerate for a while.

    Traditionally you would serve these beauties with whipped cream. I have not been able to bear the sight of schlag on my food since … well, let’s just say, Vermont, a loss of power, whipped cream and a pumpkin pie. Gives me the willies just thinking about it!

    Hopefully by the time you read this any threat of snow will be gone … I’m pretty sure I heard that rotten weatherman say the dreaded S word this morning!

    Biscuits:

    • 2 C all-purpose flour
    • 1 T baking powder
    • 1/2 t salt
    • 3 T sugar
    • 1 stick butter, chilled
    • 2/3 to 3/4 C half and half

    Strawberries:

    • 1 quart strawberries
    • 1/3 C sugar
    • 1 T Balsamic

    If you want the ooky whipped cream:

    1 1/2 cups whipping cream for topping, or non-dairy whipped topping

    NOTE: Try to use the best balsamic possible. Not everything you buy in the supermarket is anything close to traditional balsamic. If you want to treat yourself to something wonderful, try the Traditional Balsamic from Fiore. Their products are really great … stay tuned for an ice cream with their Amarena Cherry Balsamic!

    Rinse the berries under cold water; drain well. Hull and slice the berries; place in a bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar and balsamic; cover and let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour.

    Whip the cream (sweeten with 2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar, if desired) until it holds a soft peak. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

    Preheat the oven to 425.

    In a food processor combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and pulse to mix. Cut butter into about 8 pieces and add to the mixture. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, but with few pea-size chunks of butter left in the mixture. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and make a well in the center. With a fork stir in the cream, just until dough is moist.

    NOTE: Be very careful not to overwork the dough. The dough doesn’t hold together well at this point, but let the dough stand for a minute, and magic happens.

    Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Fold the dough over on itself (knead) 2 or 3 times, until it is holding together and is less sticky.

    Gently pat the dough into a 6 by 12-inch rectangle about 3/4-inch thick and cut into 8 (3-inch) biscuits with a floured round cutter. Transfer to a buttered foil-lined cookie sheet. Brush on a little milk or cream and sprinkle tops with some sugar, if desired. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until risen and golden brown.

    Split each biscuit horizontally. Top with about 1/3 cup of berry mixture. Replace the tops and top with a tablespoon or so of berries. Serve with whipped cream for topping.

    Serves 8.

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    Caramel Brownies

    Brownies.

    I love brownies.

    I’m not much of a sweet tooth person, but I am a total sucker for a good brownie. Tell me I can make brownies  in a small batch and you’ve won me completely.

    Most of my brownie recipes call for an 8×8 pan, so to me these aren’t really small batch, but still totally worth it.

    I am totally addicted to Dessert for Two … not just desserts, but dinners for two as well. With just the Dear One and I at home these days, I always have a hard time cooking for just two people. Christina is the solution for everything … desserts, mains, drinks, cookies! It’s all there!

    We invited our dear friend Dave for dinner and while dessert isn’t usually on the menu, one of the dear daughters brought chocolates, lots of chocolates to the house. One of the selections was Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Caramel squares. The stars aligned. Tonight we needed dessert and this had to be the one.

    • 10 T unsalted butter, diced
    • 1 1/4 C granulated sugar
    • 3/4 C + 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1 1/2 t vanilla extract
    • 1/2 t espresso powder
    • 1/4 t salt
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1/2 C all-purpose flour
    • 9 caramel-filled chocolates

    NOTE: I used Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate & Salted Caramel squares.

    Preheat the oven to 325, and make sure an oven rack is in the lower third of the oven.

    Line a 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper in two directions, overlapping. Leave enough excess to make handles so it’s easier to pull the brownies out once they’re baked.

    NOTE: My parchment paper is really wide, so I just used one piece and tucked it in. I always find it hard to keep the paper in place and those large metal clips do the trick.

    Next, in a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar and cocoa powder.

    Microwave for 30 seconds, stop and stir, and microwave for another 30 seconds. The mixture will be quite hot.

    NOTE: So we don’t have a microwave. I know. I know. I’ve been living int he woods for far too long. But when someone who will remain nameless put something with metal in the microwave, she did us a favor. We really only use it to start potatoes and melt butter. Why take up all the cabinet or counter space? I did this on the stove top and it was fine.

    Let the mixture rest on the counter for a few minutes to cool, stirring occasionally.

    When the mixture feels warm, not hot, stir in the vanilla, espresso powder and salt. Finally, stir in the eggs.

    Add the flour to the batter, and using a spatula, vigorously stir the mixture for 50 strokes. This activates the gluten and makes for a rich, chewy brownies.

    Spread the batter into the prepared pan evenly.

    Bake for 23-26 minutes, until the top is dry.

    Unwrap the squares while the brownies are still hot, and press into the top of the brownies evenly. Slice and serve.

    Apple Pie Filling … For the Freezer

    Ready to freeze

    Seriously, it don’t get much easier than this!

    After making it through freezing peach pie filling, how hard could apple pie filling be? Certainly apples are easier to peel and core and slice. I honestly don’t remember where I found this recipe, but the gal whose blog it’s from doesn’t freeze it in pie shape, but flat in freezer bags and makes 10 or so at a time right in their own freezer bags.  All the dry, add apples, shake and freeze.

    I wanted to be as lazy as humanly possible on t his venture and decided to freeze the apples the same way I did the peach pie filling, all ready to plunk into a pie shell and bake.

    • 2/3 C white flour
    • 1 1/2 C  sugar
    • 2 t cinnamon, or to taste
    • 6 to 6 1/2 C apples, peeled and sliced thin
    • 1 gallon freezer bag

    Place first first three ingredients into a bowl and stir.

    Mixed

    Add apples and toss until well mixed.

    Line a pie plate with tin foil and saran wrap. Add the apple mixture. Place in freezer until sold.  Remove from tin. Wrap tightly and store in freezer.

    TO BAKE:

    Put frozen pie filling into crust lined pie dish.

    Using 5 tablespoons of cut up cold butter, dot the filling.

    Put top crust on, flute edges, and sprinkle top with cinnamon and sugar, if you like.

    Line edges with foil to prevent burning.

    Bake at pie 350 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Until inside is just hot and bubbly. I would put it on a baking sheet to avoid a big mess in your oven.

    NOTE: Take foil off for the last 25 minutes to brown the crust.

    Homemade Vanilla

    It doesn’t get simpler. It doesn’t get more economical. It doesn’t get better tasting.

    Let’s start with economical.

    One 8 oz. bottle of Nielson-Massey Madagascar Vanilla Extract costs approximately $20.  Not including shipping, if you buy it online or your time to travel to a place that sells NM or another pure vanilla extract.

    25 Grade A Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans from Vanilla Products USA, which I always buy through eBay, cost $16.30, including shipping. (By the way, they always tuck in a free gift. I received 10 Grade B Tahitian Vanilla Beans with my order). 2 750 ml bottles of Fris Vodka cost $22.

    And do yourself a favor. Don’t – and I mean DO NOT – buy vanilla beans in the supermarket or specialty store. 2 beans for $8 – that is robbery!

    Total cost for homemade vanilla $38.30 – that would be 6 and 1/4 8 oz bottles.

    Those 6 and 1/4 bottles would cost you $125 if you bought Nielson-Massey Vanilla.

    When I made my first batch of vanilla years ago and did the math – purchased vanilla vs. homemade vanilla – I was astounded by the amount of money I was wasting. And that doesn’t include getting to a place that sells the Nielson-Massey or any pure vanilla extract.

    We aren’t even going to bring imitation vanilla into this discussion. Nope. Can’t do it. And you shouldn’t either!

    Taste? You may be wondering how there could be a taste difference in pure vanilla extracts – sote bought or your own. It’s all in the alcohol you use.

    Some people make theirs with Everclear or grain alcohol. I’m not crazy about the really high alcohol content and don’t think it’s necessary for something I am going to bake with. I always use vodka. Either Fris or Iceberg. I prefer Iceberg. It is a very clean, crisp vodka with no real after taste. I used Fris this time – they were out of Iceberg. Do you know what type of alcohol vanilla manufacturer’s use? Nope. Neither do I. It’s all in the quality control.

    Now let’s get to the easy.

    I use the bottles the vodka comes in. I pour off a bit and put it into a smaller bottle that’s already been sitting from my last batch.  I have 25 beans – 12 in each bottle and the extra into this ‘overflow’ bottle.

    Now I have a method to my madness. I have a small bottle that I keep in my kitchen cabinet that I use whenever I bake. I have a small bottle in the closet where the vodka and beans sits and waits to become the vanilla that feeds into that smaller cabinet bottle – it has a bean or 2 in it (the extra bean goes into here as well as the extra vodka).  And then I have the newest fermenting batch. Very confusing. I know. But it’s my madness. I understand it. You will have to come up with your own madness. Heck, pour a bit off the bottles and make yourself a nice cocktail!

    Split the vanilla beans between the 2 bottles. Screw the caps back on good and tight. Shake. Put in a cool dark place. Walk away.

    What you see in the background of the picture above is my cabinet, already fermented to a beautiful color, vanilla.

    If you think about it, give the bottles a shake once in a while. Two months and you’re good to go! It will last for years. It may take you years to use it! You can put it into smaller bottles and give it to your vanilla-less friends.

    I hope you try this and stay away from the over-priced stuff and certainly stay away from th imitation stuff!

    Geesh – the word imitation should always give you a hint – STAY AWAY FROM MY FOOD!