Sunday, June 26, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: Strawberry Fields Forever

There's nothing like a freshly picked strawberry, nothing. The ones you buy in the dead of winter in the supermarket, have nothing on the ones you get from your nearby farm. Local strawberries are sweet, red, they melt in your mouth. So when Foodbuzz asked for ideas for this month's 24x24 dinner extravaganza, I knew June and strawberries, well, they go together like peanut butter and jelly. What's ahead in this post - is a 4-course meal, based entirely on strawberries and their many uses. Even if you're not local to New England, please read on, there's a reason I'm telling you all of this.

Cider Hill Farm, Amesbury, Ma.
The goal was to sit down at chat with Glenn and Karen of Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury, Ma., which is one town over from me. However, the FBI caught fugitive Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger this week. What does one have to do with the other? Well, I work in television news, and for us, a story like that, means *very* long days. Unfortunately, I couldn't catch up with the Cooks of Cider Hill Farm, but I can tell you a little about this amazing place where all the strawberries used for this dinner came form.

rows and rows of strawberries
Cider Hill Farm has been in operation since 1978, bought by Glenn Cook's parents at that time. They grow fruits and vegetables on 70 of their 145 acres of land. They have a commitment to the families of this area, always inviting people to come with every crop season to "pick-your-own". Even more impressive, is their commitment to the environment. Cider Hill has three wind turbines in effect, over 300 solar panels, and outdoor wood boilers to heat the greenhouses and the homes on the property.

Picking my own strawberries
When speaking specifically of Cider Hill's strawberries, they're doing some great things. In addition to the two large fields of pick-your-own strawberries, they've been experimenting with vertical strawberry production. They picked a great varietal called Seascape and using this technology they were able to grow the strawberries that would usually take up 1/3rd of an acre in 1/30th of an acre. Pretty impressive use of resources there.

my box of strawberries - 6.5 pounds
Why am I telling you this? If you're one of my readers in another state or even another country, why should you care? You should because you should be seeking out a farm like Cider Hill near you. You may not even know they're there, but they're probably doing amazing things. Your local farm is a resource, plain and simple. It's a chance to pick fresh fruit with your family, support your community, and take home the best and healthiest foods available to you. This falls into this week's "The Lighter Side of Local" series - learn about your local farm. What you find out, may surprise and intrigue you.

The amazing meal I'm about to tell you about wouldn't be possible if not for the folks at Cider Hill Farm and their hard work. Not to mention, they saved me a bundle. I picked 6.5 pounds of strawberries at $2.75 a pound. I'll have enough for this meal, jam, and frozen strawberries that will last me well into the winter. So without further ado, I give you a dinner party I appropriately named after one of my favorite Beatles tunes, "Strawberry Fields Forever".

Course 1: Chilled Strawberry Tequila Soup
Serves: 4

A lot of chilled strawberry soup recipes call for some kind of dairy. I'm not a fan of chilled soups that are creamy, for some reason, I always want them to be heated up. I did my own variation that's dairy-free, but unbelievably refreshing. 

4 cups whole strawberries, washed and hulled
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
4 teaspoons sugar
1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup good tequila
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 a lime, sliced, for garnish

Place strawberries into a food processor and puree until chunky. Next, add the rest of your ingredients and pulse in food processor until well combined. Chill in refrigerator for at least an hour. Serve in bowls, garnish with fresh lime slices.

Course 2: Spinach and Strawberry Salad
Serves: 4

Strawberries are perfect paired with another in-season favorite, spinach. This is versatile. Swap out the feta with gorgonzola or blue cheese. Instead of red wine vinaigrette, whip up some poppyseed dressing. Add candied walnuts or slivered almonds. All are fantastic.

4 cups spinach, chopped (or 4 cups baby spinach)
2 cups sliced strawberries
1/2 cup feta

Red Wine Vinaigrette
Source: Giada de Laurentiis
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil

For the Salad
Toss together all ingredients in a large serving bowl. Set aside while you make the dressing.

Preparing the Dressing
Combine red wine vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. Pulse to combine and then while the machine is running, add olive oil until all ingredients come together.

Drizzle dressing over salad and toss to coat.

Course 3: Strawberry-Balsamic Flank Steak
Serves: 4

This is a savory use for strawberries. They're not only for sweet uses. Macerating the berries in balsamic vinegar or red wine for a few hours turn them into a perfect topping for beef, chicken, or pork. The brown sugar rub included in this recipe is amazing for any kind of beef cut you put on the grill. 

brown sugar dry-rub
Strawberry-Balsamic Topping
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Brown Sugar Rub
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon chipolte chile powder
1/8 teaspoon ground dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika (regular paprika can be used as well)

Flank Steak
1.25 pounds flank steak, trimmed of fat
1/4 cup crumbles gorgonzola cheese

Preparing the Strawberry-Balsamic Topping
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside at room-temperature to macerate, about 2 hours. 

Preparing the Brown Sugar Rub
Mix together all ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk until well-combined. This is enough for 1-1.25 pounds of meat. Feel free to double or triple or even more for larger cuts or to have some on hand at any point. Store in an airtight container if not using right away.

Preparing the flank steak
Trim the flank steak to your liking. Place between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to desired thinness (this will also help tenderize this cut of meat). Take pounded cut and rub your try rub in, using all of it, on both sides so the meat is covered. Now, grill to your desired doneness (we like medium rare in this house). Take off the grill, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 5 minutes or so. Slice into 4 pieces. Serve topped with balsamic strawberries and crumbled gorgonzola cheese.

Course 4: Lemon & Strawberry-Grand Marnier Ice Cream Sandwiches

Sorry folks, you'll have to tune in next Sunday for how to make this one up. I know, I'm such a tease. This post is already so epic, it's time to take a little break. Next Sunday will be part two of strawberry fun. We'll talk how to make strawberry ice cream and these lovely treats. We'll also talk about ways to stretch your strawberry haul well into the dead of winter.

I hope you enjoyed this trip through the strawberry fields. Our dinner guests definitely did.

What's your favorite way to use strawberries? I'm dying for a perfect strawberry cordial recipe, please comment and share below if you have one of those or any other strawberry recipe. I'd love to feature a collection of your ideas in next Sunday's post! Pin It


Amy said...

I can't wait until the berries are ready to pick in my neck of the woods!  There is nothing better than fresh from the farm!  All of these recipes sound wonderful, I especially love the ice cream sandwiches though! 

Betty Ann fr Asianinamericamag said...

Oh my, how generous of you to share so many splendid strawberry recipes! I've never had strawberry soup before. Now I can't wait to try! And can't wait for your next post... Thanks for sharing!

Tina said...

What a great idea for 24x24! I love strawberries!

Sandra's Easy cooking said...

Amazing idea Kimmy...I have to agree with you that nothing is better than freshly picked strawberries..You meal look amazing and pictures too! Congrats on making 24x24!!

Julie @ Willow Bird Baking said...

Great idea!  Those strawberry ice cream sandwiches look SO delicious!

Stephanie Arsenault said...

Oh, Kimmy, everything looks amazing! So many new ways to use strawberries - I can't wait to try them all out!

TheCilantropist said...

I loved picking strawberries with my family when i was little, and I should really do it as an adult too.  That spinach salad looks like something I would love!

Jane Ward said...

David Leibovitz published a strawberry vodka post today.  I haven't read it yet, but it sounds promising for something in the cordial/spirits category.

Your menu is very creative!

Briarrose said...

Gorgeous fresh strawberries.  I love all the courses.  The soup is definitely my speed.  :)

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 I promise you'll get the ice cream sandwiches this weekend :-) They are lovely!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

The soup is so refreshing... it was hot and humid here this week and I made a little lunch of that and a salad and it was fantastic!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

thanks, I mean nothing compares to the freshness. 

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 thank you! I'll put the recipe for those out on Sunday. I needed to work on it one more time!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

I love using them in a savory way, I debated on whether to macerate them in the balsamic or the red wine. Loved the balsamic, but think I'll try red wine next time!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

Picking the strawberries was so nice, quiet, meditative. I could see it being blast with a crowd of people though!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

I just read that post and it looks fantastic. I've also read where you can let the strawberries ferment on their own. May try a batch of both! said...

My gosh, Kim, everything looks terrific!! The flank steak is something I would love to try.