It was May, just as the strawberry fields were beginning to ripen, when my family and I moved to rural Oregon from the desert southwest. A big hand-painted plywood sign announcing "U-Pick Strawberries" near our new house beckoned. As motivation and reward I promised my then nine, seven, and three-year-old kids we would go as soon as we were unpacked and settled in.
Having grown up in cities, this "U-Pick" idea was just the best thing I'd ever heard of. Farmers actually let people onto their property to pick their produce? I had no idea I was expected to bring our own buckets or bowls, and we showed up that first day empty-handed and wearing inappropriate shoes for farm work.
Farmers, in general, are really nice people, and they had met our kind before. Spare grocery sacks were handed out, and we skipped off to our assigned rows.
The four of us had never tasted strawberries before. Yes, we'd had the trucked-in grocery store variety a lot of times, but the color, aroma, and taste of these field-ripened berries was like Dorothy entering the technicolor Land of Oz.
The kids and I laughed and stopped to look at the loamy earth, the bugs, and the whiskery leaves of the strawberry plants growing in mounds. We raced to see who could pick the most berries. There was no way to hide my then three-year-old's strawberry-stained face, hands, and belly, and truth be told all of us had eaten our fair share in the field. I offered to pay for what we'd eaten, and the clerk made me a customer for life when she laughed and said it was all part of the experience.
There are no words to describe how alive I felt that day.
It was then I realized what a sheltered life I'd lived in the big city. It was then that I developed my sustained mad crush on local farms, farm stands, farmers, and the generosity of Oregon itself. That day goes down as one of the best in my life, and it changed me forever.
As the summer moved along and for many summers afterward we U-picked cherries, raspberries, blueberries, and Oregon's famous Marionberries. Wonder-filled memories were made through the years, from the gathering of the berries to the lovely things we made and ate from them.
Fun Dessert Duo: Strawberry Sorbet + Strawberry Ice Cream
Start with 2 pounds of hulled and quartered strawberries; whirl the sugar with 1/2 small lemon, peel and all until finely ground; add the berries, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt; chill, then freeze in an ice cream maker.
The only thing better than ice cream for dessert is ice cream and sorbet for dessert! Making them with the same fruit makes a beautifully balanced contrast of color, tanginess, sweetness, creaminess and frostiness.
This type of dessert duo is one of my entertaining go-to's. The frozen desserts can be made in advance-- a big win for any host! There is something show-stopping about serving the two this way.
Strawberry Sorbet and Strawberry Ice Cream Duo (Dairy-Free)
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Season: Evergreen (April - July)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free
Prep Time: 30minutes
Total Time: 1hour
The only thing better than ice cream for dessert is ice cream and sorbet for dessert! Making them with the same fruit makes a beautifully balanced contrast of color, tanginess, sweetness, creaminess and frostiness. This type of frozen dessert duo is one of my entertaining go-to's. The frozen desserts can be made in advance-- a big win for the host! There is something show-stopping about serving it this way.
2lbs.strawberries, hulled and quartered(about 5 ½ cups)
2small lemons, divided
¾ - 1cupsugardepending on the ripeness of the berries)
Dairy-Free Strawberry Ice Cream Ingredients
10oz.strawberries, hulled and quartered, divided(about 2 ½ cups)
113.6 oz. canfull-fat coconut milk
? - ½cuphoneydepending the the ripeness of the berries
1tsp.pure vanilla extract
3dropsalmond extract (optional)
Strawberry Sorbet Instructions
Prepare (hull and quarter) strawberries and set aside.
In a food processor, process ½ small lemon with sugar, pulsing and whirring until the lemon is in tiny even bits and fully incorporated into the sugar.
Add the strawberries, the juice of 1 ½ lemons, and the salt. Process until the strawberries are completely pureed, stopping to scrape the sides a few times to incorporate all of the sugar mixture.
For best results, chill the sorbet mixture at least one hour or up to overnight. (It will freeze better in an ice cream maker if it is chilled, or you can make it ahead to this step and freeze the mixture the next day.) Freeze according to your ice cream maker directions. For soft-serve, serve right away. For a firmer scoop, store in the freezer for an hour before serving.
Dairy-Free Strawberry Ice Cream Instructions
Reserve about 1/2“ of the hulled and quartered strawberries. Add all remaining ingredients (1/2 of the berries through lemon juice) to a food processor and process until smooth.
Add the reserved 1/2“ strawberries to the mixture in the processor, and pulse a few times to break them up into bits and chunks.
For best results, chill the ice cream mixture at least one hour or up to overnight. (It will freeze better in an ice cream maker if it is chilled, or you can make it ahead to this step and freeze the mixture the next day.) Freeze according to your ice cream maker directions. For soft-serve, serve right away. For a firmer scoop, store in the freezer for an hour before serving.
Plan ahead if you are making these both at once. If you are using a Cuisinart-style tabletop ice cream maker you will either need two freezer inserts or you will need time to refreeze your insert.
Making food for people, especially these Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies with Blood Orange filling, is an act of love. Mr. Fred Rogers, my truest childhood hero, said, "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
Love is showing up, on repeat, day after day. It's the things you never knew you'd do. Like spending nights in the NICU next to your newborn's incubator. Or forgiving the hurt of a friend over and over again until you don't remember it anymore, which you hope is soon. Sometimes you are the target of your own love when you allow yourself to let go of guilt, grief, or fear.
"I know the secret of life: If you want to have loving feelings, do loving things."
Messing Up is OK
The wonderous thing about love, is that you will mess it up. That's just part of it.
Just like the verb cooking, loving calls for a lot doing. Trial, practice, mistake-making, and what can feel like wasted time and resources. But your flops are exactly how you learn to love better. The trick is to not give up. Keep practicing. Your acts refine as you practice them. Your acts become who you are. With a little tenacity your love eventually looks more like the soufflé you'd hoped for and less like the dog's breakfast.
Remember all this when you make these pretty little Valentine heart shortbread cookies for your beloveds. Each time you press your pinky into the dough, you imprint the part of yourself that is set on loving. The soft, unchilled dough gives way to make adorable little heart shaped vessels that hold a tad of sweet blood orange goodness you also have made.
As you form the little Valentine hearts, they will remind you of your beloveds. Some, like a crotchety uncle, hide their tenderness in crooked wrinkles. Some, like an emotional 8th grader, absolutely cannot contain their contents. Others are the picture of every-hair-in-place perfection. The likeness of each heart says they belong together on the plate. Their uniquenesses make the plateful interesting. Just like you and your beloveds.
Make a double boiler by simmering 3" deep of water in a large saucepan. In a medium/large stainless steel bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks, and sugar until sugar just starts to dissolve.
Whisk in both juices and zest.
Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water. Cook curd, stirring with a rubber spatula almost constantly, until it begins to thicken. It should have the consistency of loosely whipped cream. Remove from heat.
Stir in butter cubes all at once, stirring until butter is completely melted and fully incorporated. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove bits of zest and any solid egg proteins.
Chill at 2 hours before using in the cookies. This makes about 1 ¾ cups-- you will only use about ½ cup for the cookies. Store the rest for another purpose.
For the Vanilla Pinkprint Cookie Dough
Line two baking sheets with parchment or non-stick mats.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2 - 3 minutes.
Beat in the egg and vanilla until fully incorporated and fluffy. On low speed, blend in the flour until just incorporated.
Using small scoop, scoop up a bit of dough and roll into a 1" ball with your palms. Place on the baking sheet. Using your pinky, press down near the top of the ball, making an indentation. Make another indentation right next to it. Make a third indentation centered in the hollow just below the first and second indentations to begin making a heart shape in the dough. Use your fingers to elongate the edge at bottom of the ball, and to make a dent in the edge of the top of the ball. Repeat, making fun little heart shapes, each with their own personality, using up the dough. You should have close to 20 hearts on each baking sheet.
Chill dough hearts until they are very firm, at least an hour. This part is critical, or you'll end up with a puddle in the end.
Putting the cookies all together:
Preheat oven to 350°. Bake one sheet for 7 minutes. Working quickly, once again use your pinky to depress the heart shape that has puffed up. It will be hot, so use caution. Using a very small spoon, like a baby or demitasse spoon, fill the depressions with cold blood orange curd. Don't over flow! Place the cookies back in the oven for another 5 - 7 minutes, keeping a close eye. You want them fully cooked and just barely beginning to go golden on the bottom, but not browning on the cookie itself. Allow to cook for two or three minutes on the baking sheet, to set up, them remove to a cooling rack to complete cooling. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if they last that long.
Make It Your Own:Use store- bought lemon, lime, or raspberry curd instead of making your own. Easier yet, fill them with any red or pink jam.Save time by simply using your thumb to make an indent. No need to make a heart to make these cookies pretty and delish all year long.
I have a strong difference of opinion with myself. Brightly colored vibrant foods are my first choices. The more colors in the market basket or on a plate the better. The oranges and greens, reds and purples, and occasional black foods make me salivate just to look at.
Yet when it comes to desserts, I'm drawn to the modest beiges, creamy whites, and browns of all shades. My affinity is for rustic, crumbly sweets that out-perform their appearances. There is a place for sprinkles and colorful frosting and fancy flourishes, but for day-to-day desserts the homier the better.
Nutty meringue cookies have been around for decades. The difference here is that I've developed this recipe to feature as much hazelnut flavor and texture as the egg white meringue will hold. Don't let this quiet beige cookie fool you-- they pack in a lot of hazelnut along with their very pleasant crispy and chewy texture.
Hazelnut Meringue Cookies are terrific served with summer fruit platters, any kind of fruit, chocolate, or caramel ice creams or sorbets, (like my Strawberry Sorbet and DF Ice Cream duo!) They are also delicious as a coffee or tea break treat.
The recipe contains no gluten, no grain, and no additional fat besides that which is natural to the nuts.
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½tsp.almond extract (optional)this magnifies the nutty flavor but use only a little!
Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment or non-stick baking mats.
Finely chop hazelnuts in a food processor or by hand, if using whole. Set aside.
In an upright mixer or using a hand mixer, begin whipping egg whites on medium speed. As they begin to get bubbly and foamy, add in the extracts and salt. Increase mixer speed to high and continue beating until eggs white turn solid white. Begin adding sugar in, one Tablespoon at a time in fairly quick succession, until all the sugar is added.
Continue whipping egg whites until they are very stiff and hold stiff peaks, and the sugar is completely dissolved into them. (Rub a little of the mixture between your fingers to feel if the sugar is dissolved.
Using a spatula, gently but thoroughly fold the hazelnuts into the egg whites in three batches. The mixture will become a little stiff at the end-- that's OK.
Using a one Tablespoon scoop or spoon, drop the batter into the baking sheets. With lightly damp fingers, gently pat the tops of the cookies down. (They will not spread as they bake.) Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden around the edges and on the bottom. Cool on baking sheets.
These will keep in a sealed container for several days, and freeze well.
Make It Your Own:This recipe works well with chopped walnuts and almond, too!If you like your cookie a bit chewier, add 1/4 cup less nuts to the whipped egg whites.
Hello there, and how are you? Are you getting enough summer joy?
I've been thinking about all I want to soak up before summer is over. Here is what I am inspired to do before the season changes:
Eat all the canteloupes. I'm always sad when there are no more for the year.
Read a book in the hammock, start to finish. Not in one day, but over a few, maybe napping between pages.
Star gaze. The Perseids meteor shower peaks this week. Check out SkyView Lite, a free app that makes the constellations and planets come alive. When observing the night sky I feel very small, at once frightening and comforting.
Make more summer fruit sorbet, like this one, and this one. We've had chocolate, apricot, blueberry, and blackberry sorbets this year, too, and I'll share those recipes with you, next summer.
And more to make sure of:
Eat as many grilled hamburgers, vegetables, and fish as I can.
Enjoy every meal outside. Mornings on the porch are charming. Mid-day snacks in the shade of the trees are refreshing. Dinners looking out at the valley are inspiring. Soon we won't have a choice but to eat inside.
Invite as many outdoor gatherings as we can with friends and family. Nobody knows what's going to happen to our ability to gather come fall, so I will soak up all the community I can now.
Show my appreciation to farmers by visiting as many farmer markets and stands as I can. Farmers are working so hard to bring their beautiful bounty to us. (See the Find a Farmers Market Near You links in the footer of this page for a market near you.)
Roasted Peppers, White Beans, Feta, and Herb Sauce
Using the grill to get quick and easy meals done is another summer joy I can't get enough of. This recipeless recipe is long on gourmet attitude, short on effort to actualize. Eight ingredients, three of which are herbs, and 15 minutes at the grill and, viola, you are a summer foods genius.
What are you doing to make the summer last? What will you miss about summer when it's passed?
Roasted Red Peppers, White Beans, Feta + Simple Herb Sauce
Long on gourmet attitude, short on effort and time, this recipeless guide makes summer dinner go easy. Eight ingredients, under 30 minutes, and you are a cooking genius! Use the same guide in the autumn using your oven to roast the peppers and warm the Feta and beans.
1cup eachFresh basil, parsley, and cilantro leaves and tender stems, packed and lightly chopped
¼cupExtra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Peppers, White Beans + Feta
1Red, orange, or yellow bell pepperper person
3ouncesFeta, block-styleper person
1cupCannelini or other white beansper person
Smoked paprika, Aleppo pepper, or Espeletteoptional
Simple Herb Sauce
Place all sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender. Whiz or whirl them all together with a healthy five-finger pinch or salt and a healthy cracking of black pepper until it is creamy and pesto-like, but not ablsolutely pureed. Add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen the sauce, if desired. It's nicest if it puddles slightly rather than stands at attention. Set aside.
Peppers, White Beans + Feta
Stretch out a double-thick layer of foil big enough to hold the beans and feta in a single layer, folding the edges up to contain juices. If you have a grill basket use it instead, lining it with one layer of foil.
Over medium direct heat on a gas or charcoal grill, roast the peppers. Turn them frequently to char the entire outside. If they are burning at all, move them off the heat to cook indirectly, and back and forth to get a nice roasted exterior. The peppers will puff up a bit, and will eventually collapse into beautiful modern art shapes, full of condensed juices that will deliciously spill out when each diner cuts into them. This should take 10-15 minutes, depending on the heat of your grill.
About half way through cooking the peppers, place the foil or grill basket on the heat. Add the beans and Feta in one layer, drizzling them lightly with olive oil and sprinkling with the paprika, Aleppo, or Espelette, if using. Allow them to warm, and even brown a little if that happens, while the peppers finish.
Move the wrinkly cooked peppers to individual plates or a platter, along with the beans and Feta. Place a big spoonful of simple herb sauce in the center. The peppers will release their warm rich juices into the plate as they are cut into, adding to the sauce. Serve!
If you are using dried beans, cook according to one of the easy Rancho Gordo methods. If you don't have a grill or make this during cool-weather months, use the same guide with your oven to roast the peppers and warm the beans and Feta.
You’re in the right place! I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar.
Superpower: Dreaming up recipes that work, serving them to my friends and family, and writing little stories about how cooking them well is the same as loving well.
Inspiration: Ingredients! The fresh, colorful, fragrant, local, seasonal ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest are my creative medium.
Heroes: Local food and wine producers– the people who keep me, my family, and our community nourished and happy.