Balsamic and Basil Strawberries

I’ve loved balsamic vinegar since I was a kid. When I was four, I used to dunk raw heads of broccoli into a small glass bowl filled with the stuff. My mom said I was the only kid she ever heard of who liked vinegar that much. Even now, it’s one of my favorite condiments; it’s tangy but there’s enough sweetness to balance the strong acidity.

For my mom’s birthday tea, I made Kahlua-whipped cream filled strawberries with turbinado sugar sprinkled on top. I enjoy Kahlua, but it invokes more of a cozy, wintertime feeling than I would want to experience right now (current temp in NYC: 84 degrees, F… humidity: the papers in my desk feel moist to the touch, as do the multigrain crackers residing in my cabinet). Thus, I opted against making Kahlua strawberries this go around, and decided instead to make more savory and refreshing balsamic-whipped cream filled strawberries with a basil garnish to fulfill the savory flavor profile of the balsamic cream.

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The first time I tried whipping the cream in my hot, sticky apartment, it collapsed a few whips away from being finished, partially because of the heat, and partially because I added too much vinegar too close to the end; I think the acidity cut the fat. Expletives were yelled. Fists were brandished. I put my sweat-tainted shirt back on (yes, I was working in a sports bra with a fan aimed directly at my sweltering, cream whipping bod), and trekked back to the store. This time, I bought not one, but two pints of heavy cream, in case the same thing happened again.

I got back to my apartment and with newfound determination and beads of sweat running down my forearms, whipped the cream successfully. When I went to put the cream in my piping bag, I discovered that something atrocious had happened to it, which I shan’t get into. Anyhow, I opted to use a spoon to insert the cream into the hulled strawberries rather than spend my afternoon searching West Harlem for a new pastry tool.

If you don’t mess up the cream like I initially did, these strawberries are very easy to make, and are great for a savory dessert or appetizer on a hot summer day. With that said, they’re best served cool, or the cream will become watery. I know this firsthand because I tried to bring some downtown to my friend Melissa, and they melted on the subway. She still ate them, which I love her for.

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INGREDIENTS:

1 pound strawberries, washed and hulled

1/2 packet gelatin, dissolved in a few tbsp of boiling water, at room temp (whisk with a fork as soon as you add the water so it doesn’t become lumpy)

3 basil leaves, cut into ribbons

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (the sweeter the better)

1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar

1/2 pint heavy cream

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DIRECTIONS:

Chill a mixing bowl and a whisk in the freezer for at least an hour.

Pour the cooled gelatin-water mixture into the mixing bowl. Add the confectioner’s sugar, balsamic, and cream. Whisk until soft peaks form. Using a metal teaspoon, dollop about a tablespoon into the core of each strawberry. Top the cream with a basil ribbon. Serve immediately.

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Enjoy!

Leslie

Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkins are amazing. They’re beautiful, have a long shelf life, and most importantly, they can become pie. I try to pretend that pumpkin pie is at least moderately healthy since it’s made out of a squash-like fruit (naturally ignoring the fact that this fruit sits on top of a buttery crust and is topped with heaping dollops of whipped cream). Pumpkin pie is also among the easiest to make if you use canned pumpkin and a ready-made pie crust. Though I normally make it this way for Thanksgiving since I would be insane to attempt anything more elaborate while making all of the other desserts that the holiday entails, I do enjoy using fresh pumpkin when I have the time.

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So, today, I peeled, seeded, and cubed a sugar pumpkin that I picked off the vine* at Hank’s Pumpkintown out east. This is the most time consuming part of making pumpkin pie from scratch; pumpkins are relatively easy to peel (using a knife, not a vegetable peeler), but they can be tough to cut through. After steaming the pumpkin, I put it in the food processor, which you will notice in the following picture, has been in my family since formica countertops were in vogue.

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I also made the crust from scratch using Martha Stewart’s pie crust recipe, which can be found on her website: http://www.marthastewart.com/344292/our-favorite-pie-crust … This was my first attempt at truly crimping the crust; please forgive any glaring crimping errors. The original recipe for the pie filling hails from Libby’s, the brand of canned pumpkin that my family always uses. I altered it slightly to omit cloves and include nutmeg. I also used a little of the extra pie crust to make a jack-o-lantern face, which I put on top of the pie about halfway through baking.

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Original Recipe: https://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/18470/libbys-famous-pumpkin-pie/

*full disclosure, my friend Sam kicked it off the vine for me… did you know that pumpkin vines are super prickly??

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Scant 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

large eggs

15 oz. pumpkin puree (a little less than 2 cups)

1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk

unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie shell

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DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and nutmeg in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.

Pour filling into pie shell.

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Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees; bake for 20 minutes or until slightly firm, then apply jack-o-lantern face to the center of the pie. Continue baking for another 20-30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving (unless you don’t like whipped cream, in which case I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOUR LIFESTYLE).

 

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Enjoy!

Leslie