Friday, July 20, 2012

Catch the Summer Berry Berry

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, oh my!  The luscious little gems of summer are back and ripe for your enjoyment.  I recently purchased some fresh locally grown blueberries from our neighborhood farm stand.  Resembling my favorite gemstone, the sapphire hue was as intense as the blueberry flavor.  There is not a summer snack more addictive that a cool, refreshing, juicy and perfectly ripe berry.  

Just gazing upon the headline photo to my blog site, those assorted berries, glistening with raspberry sauce and cascading over the sides of the extra creamy cheesecake, appear to be mimicking a pile of jewels.  The crimson raspberries masquerading as rubies, the sapphire-imposter blueberries and the deep garnet-like strawberries, it’s no wonder that chefs reach for berries more than any other option for luxuriously decorating their pastries.

Berries can be grown in the home garden with ease, provided defensive methods are employed in the form of netting.  The one season when I attempted to grow strawberries without such cover-ups yielded more appreciation by the birds and rabbits than by Brian and I.  Ah well, live and learn.  When opting to grow berries, remember to grow numerous plants in order to reap a significant bounty for enjoyment. Most berry plants are perennials, making them the garden gift that keeps on giving.  For those of you who possess black thumbs, or whose yard is host to voracious herbivores such as groundhogs and bunnies, check out your local farms.  Many of them welcome visitors to pick their own berries.  If there happens to be a wild berry patch nearby, grab some baskets and send the kids on a mission.  Be warned, however, that eating is more fun than picking and hauling: left unsupervised, your kids will likely return with few berries in their baskets, far too many in their tummies, all evidenced by purple tongues.  Think light dinner for them that evening!

Berries can be enjoyed in numerous presentations.  In simplest form, a simple bowl of berries topped with a mascarpone whipped cream is my choice method of berry consumption.  I like to combine strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.  The good news is that with the exception of the strawberries, which need to be hulled and halved, there is no preparation work involved with the others. 

Fruits salads that highlight berries with other summer delicacies are also delicious.  Blackberries pair nicely with sliced nectarines, and strawberries are a nice addition to balls of honeydew and sliced peaches.  Slices bananas, strawberries and orange segments are another winning combination – just ask the Tropicana think tank that released an orange juice emanating that very flavor combination.

Tossing a handful of berries into a morning cereal adds another dimension of flavor and texture, as well as incorporating another component of daily nutritional requirement and thus resulting in a more balanced breakfast.  Berry toppings also add a special splash of color and flavor when ladled over pancakes or waffles.

As one of my longest and closest friends enjoys doing, berries can be cooked down and jarred into preserves and jams.  My friend harvested so many wild blueberries from her property that she had little choice in using them up but to transform them into some of the best blueberry jam I have ever savored!  It was the perfect way to consume an English muffin every morning.

Berries are often baked in such sinfully tasty edibles as muffins, pies and cobblers.  Who would say no to a blueberry crumb cake with their cup of java?  The neutral hue of a creamy palette of cheesecake becomes an enlivened backdrop when bold red raspberries are incorporated.

Berries are also perfect additions for rounding out a salad, adding sweet flavor, bites of juicy texture and eye-popping color to balance the other ingredients, as in my recipe for spinach salad with strawberries, goat cheese and pecans:
That recipe works equally well with blue cheese and blueberries.  Either way, turn it into a main dish salad by adding coarsely chopped, cooked chicken or duck breast, both of which marry well with berries.

Strong flavors that are characteristic of duck stand up well to being paired with berry-studded pan sauces.  Brian recently prepared grilled duck with a raspberry-chipotle sauce that was sublime.  The sweetness of the raspberry was the perfect counterpoint for the spiciness of the chipotle chili, all syncing perfectly with the grilled duck.

Berries are often highlighted in summer beverages.  Such boozy delights as frosty strawberry daiquiris, raspberry rumrunners and blueberry martinis are the perfect summer libation.  Chambord is a sensual raspberry liqueur that can be enjoyed straight up, mixed into cocktails and even added into cooking and baking recipes for an extra kick of raspberry flavor.  Wineries, such as Long Island’s Osprey’s Dominion, play with berries for conjuring lighter sips such as strawberry wine to accompany the lighter, summer fun fare.  When it comes to craft breweries, it seems as though everyone is getting into the blueberry ale act this season, including Long Island’s own Blue Point Brewery.  Then there's one of my personal favorites, Framboise, a raspberry lambic from Lindemans.

One of my summer favorites to highlight raspberries is to make this raspberry sauce and ladle it over vanilla ice cream with white chocolate truffles:

Vanilla Ice Cream with White Chocolate Truffles and Raspberry Sauce


1 ¼ cups sugar
1 1/3 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
3 teaspoons Madascar bourbon vanilla extract
1 package Lindor white chocolate truffles, chilled

8 ounces seedless raspberry jam
¼ cup sugar
1 pint fresh raspberries
3 tablespoons Chambord

Using a hand held mixer, beat the milk and 1 ½ cups sugar until the sugar in well incorporated.  Add the heavy cream and the vanilla and beat on high speed for about three minutes.  Transfer the mixture into the container of an ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer’s directions.  Coarsely chop enough of the white chocolate truffles to make 1 cup.  When the ice cream has five minutes left to process, stir in the white chocolate.  After five minutes, transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe sealed container and store in the freezer overnight.

For the sauce, stir together the jam, ¼ cup of sugar, half of the raspberries and the Chamboard in a medium saucepan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved, the jam is melted and the berries have begun to become incorporated into the mixture.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Gently stir in the remaining raspberries.  Scoop the ice cream into dessert bowls and ladle the sauce over each serving of ice cream.

Note that this sauce is delectable when ladled over cheesecake, panna cotta, pound cake, waffles and pancakes.  For a sauce that highlights all of the best-loved berries of the season, use a combination of fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, keep the Chambord and choose a strawberry or blueberry jam instead of the raspberry jam, if desired.

Food for Thought
Another great way to enjoy berries is when they’ve been baked into a pie.  Berry pies are perhaps the easiest pies to make, as the berries don’t need to be cut up or peeled.  Easier still, for my fellow Long Islanders, take a leisurely drive along the eastern north fork to Briermere Farms.  They make the most amazing pies, from the traditional strawberry-rhubarb to some other delightful combinations that highlight not only the berries, but other summer fruits as well, such as peach-raspberry, peach-cherry, etc. 

July is National Blueberry Month, so be sure to pick up some blueberries at your local farm stand or famer’s market.  What to do with them?  It just so happens that July 30th is National Cheesecake Day!  Consider making a blueberry cheesecake crowned with a whipped cream-rimmed blueberry topping like the one pictured above.  Need inspiration?  Read about cheesecakes in my CNN ireport:

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