Monthly Archives: May 2011

My Strawberry Marathon

While others are running the Prague Marathon on this splendidly sunny May weekend, I will see just how many strawberry dishes I can come up with.

One of the most important ingredients you will always find in my red fridge is buttermilk. Sadly, I only discovered the glorious benefits of buttermilk five years ago. Since then, when it comes to baking, I can’t live without it. Anything I make with buttermilk just turns out so moist and delicious. One can never go wrong when this sour, off-white, watery thin liquid is a part of the recipe. If you have any fabulous dishes that use buttermilk, please pass them on!

The basket of strawberries I brought home the other day, from the farmer’s market, is still more than half-full ! This morning, I was busy trying to think of ways to incorporate the fresh berries into our breakfast. Smoothie? Yogurt with strawberries and other mixed fruits? Pancakes with strawberry topping? How about a buttermilk strawberry muffin?

I wanted something cakey, but not too sweet, but similar to the size of a cupcake and of course it had to be moist, so whatever I was going to make had to include some buttermilk. The muffins turned out just right. It had that crunchy muffin top and the texture was in between that of a muffin and cupcake. The baked sliced strawberries added to the moist sweetness you found after taking a bite.

Luckily there are many outdoor potluck celebrations going on. This batch made 30 medium-sized muffins! I am taking some to a bridal barbecue shower this afternoon and planning to serve them with some whipped cream. These would also be especially great to serve for breakfast on Valentine’s Day! But as you can see you don’t need to have a special holiday to enjoy these, just lots of strawberries around.

Strawberry Buttermilk Muffins

1/2 cup softened butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1tsp.vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 grated lemon peel
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

Pre-heat the oven to 350/180 degrees.
Prep your muffin tin.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar.
Beat the eggs in one at a time.
Then blend in the vanilla.

In a another medium bowl, combine the flour,baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Add the flour mixture to the cream mixture.
Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, begin to add the buttermilk.
Gently stir and add the grated lemon peel.
Be careful not to over mix.
Fold in 1 cup of the sliced strawberries.

Fill your muffin cups half-way.
Then add the remaining strawberries to the mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and center comes out clean.

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I’m in the Mood for…

… a strawberry custard like tart. Why? Because when I left my house this morning to meet a friend and turned the corner, I walked into a farmer’s market that popped out of nowhere! Surprises like this, usually result with some spontaneous unintended purchase. On this particular day, it was a basket of luscious red strawberries.

I guess I am a sucker for good packaging. I left home with a plan to stop at the supermarket on my return home. Strawberries, however, was not on my shopping list. Raspberries were.

But alas, there was not a raspberry stand at the farmer’s market and this basket of crimson berries was calling my name. I knew I could just adapt the Brown Butter Raspberry Tart I was reading about in Bon Appetit the night before.

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, I love my berries. When I see them packed in their baskets, I know that summer is near. And when summer is here, my second favorite dessert after a cup of ice cream is anything made with fruit. With such a huge number of strawberries on hand, this might just be a 1 in 3 part series about strawberries.

Brown Butter Strawberry Tart
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

Crust: (for a 9-inch tart pan)
7 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus a tablespoon
pinch of salt

Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut in cubes
1 1/2 cups of sliced strawberries

Preheat oven to 375/190 degrees and place the rack in center of oven.
It is recommended to use a rubber spatula to mix the melted butter, sugar and vanilla
in a medium bowl.
Toss a pinch of salt into your flour and add it to the butter mixture.
Stir until well combined.
It will look like breadcrumbs.

Crust:
Using your fingertips, begin to press the dough evenly around the sides of the pan.
When all the sides are covered, begin to work your way towards the bottom,
pressing it down evenly and smoothly from the sides.
Bake crust for 18 minutes, then set aside to cool.

Filling:

Whisk the sugar, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl.
Add the flour and vanilla.
Put the diced butter in a heavy sauce pan.
Cook over medium heat, until the butter has a copper tone to it.
Be careful not to burn it!
Transfer the butter to a heat-resistant glass, best if it is a measuring cup to be sure you melted half a cup.
Gradually pour the browned butter to the other mixture and whisk until well-blended.

Place 1 cup of sliced strawberries in a circle around the cooled crust.
Pour the browned butter mixture over the berries.
Add the remaining strawberries to the top of the mixture.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the center comes out clean.
Enjoy and think of the sunny summer days ahead!

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Random Musings: Love your Lentils


Lentils were an absent staple in my childhood and it wasn’t until late into my adult years that I did come to appreciate them. Today, I am a happy convert and no longer shy away from these mini discs of protein. I dug this recipe out of my notebook of loose clippings and handwritten recipes from friends and family. This one is from an American friend named Courtney, originally from Portland, Oregon. Our paths happened to cross in Prague.

I love lentils!

Some of the exciting parts about living abroad are the interesting people you meet from all corners of the world and sharing the experience of living in an unfamiliar land where you must learn and adapt to a new set of customs and rules. The most difficult aspects of these ex-pat friendships is never knowing when those friends might move, dealing with the pain of having to say good-bye and then mustering the effort to start all over again and find a new set of friends. The bittersweet cycle repeats itself: make new friends, but somehow manage to keep the old. I notice that the development of these overseas friendships are more intense in comparison to the ones that were steadily nurtured in the stable streets of my childhood.

Moving to a new city and then meeting others in the same situation, one instantly forms a bond with others who share the experiences of these major life adjustments. Those experiences quickly help shape your relationships and there are so many ups and downs that come with acclimatizing to a new culture that you bare all your insecurities with the circle of people who suddenly become your support group away from home.

After knowing Courtney for three years, she left and moved to Cairo, Egypt. As a farewell, she gathered her girlfriends (and one guy, my husband, who went home with a batman costume) for a clothes swap with some wine and nibbles for us to enjoy. She served this hot lentil spread and I couldn’t stop breaking a piece of ciabatta bread to scoop up the lentil purée. It’s absolutely delicious and I don’t know why I don’t make it more often. Courtney left plenty of fun memories behind, but this recipe is her legacy…

Hot Lentil Spread

1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/2 red pepper, chopped
2 red chilis (sliced thinly and with seeds removed) or 1/2 tsp of chili flakes
6-8 basil leaves, washed and chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 juice of a lemon
1/4 teaspoon honey
salt to taste

Rinse lentils.
Put lentils, garlic, and 2 cups of water in a saucepan.
When the water start to boil, reduce the heat.
Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
When done, set aside to cool.
Using a hand blender, purée the lentils.
Add the red pepper, chilis and finely chopped basil.
Then stir in the lemon juice, honey, oil and salt to taste.

Reheat the mixture.
Serve with fine bread, sliced carrots, cucumbers or tomatoes on the side.

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