Tips

Spring in Texas: Froberg’s Strawberry Farm

by Shawnda on April 13, 2012

in Fruit,Strawberries,Texas,Tips,Travel

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

A few weeks ago, we headed down to a local farm, Froberg’s, to pick strawberries for the second year in a row. It’s a great opportunity to let the little one run around, pick strawberries, and pull out the camera.

We’re also big fans of the Jalapeno & Cheese Venison Sausage [swoon] from their smokehouse and strawberry fried pies… but this is about strawberries.

Beautiful strawberries.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

There are perks to dealing with 857% humidity in August, one of those being the ability to pick a couple of pounds of fresh strawberries in late February/early March.

Unless you’re a hoarder, and then you picked 14 lbs of fresh strawberries in late February.

I am a hoarder.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

2 baking sheets and large bowl full of strawberries. And we didn’t have to toss a single berry before it was baked with or eaten. This is how:

Wash your haul
I was always told never to rinse strawberries – just brush them with a damp paper towel – because they absorb too much water and it ruins the fruit and potentially the resulting dish. But you should really wash your strawberries, you just don’t want to soak them. I fill the buckets holding the strawberries with cold water, twist the bucket by the handle to gently swish the berries around, and use my hand to lightly press down/agitate the top floaters to loosen the dirt and grime. Carefully turn the berries out into a strainer and then rinse them off with cold water.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

Dry your haul
Gently turn the berries out of the strainer onto a towel-lined countertop and pat them dry with a paper towel. You want them pretty much totally dry, wet/damp berries will go downhill really quickly.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

Sort and store your haul
The best part of picking strawberries is that only berries that are red from end-to-end make it into the bucket, not a hard, under-ripe berry in sight! The downside is that all of those ripe, super-ripe, and almost over-ripe berries have to be managed in a way so you eliminate and minimize loss. Berries get sorted based on 3 categories before being stored in the fridge:
– Bruised or super-crazy-overripe berries go into a “must eat tomorrow” bowl. They were perfect when we picked them, but they ended up at the bottom of a 5 lb bucket of strawberries so they’re the first berries to go. They can go down as muffins or scones… or just get eaten straight from the bowl. Just as long as they’re used first!
– Picture-perfect berries go onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet (or 2) in a single layer. These will last several days, up to a week+ in the fridge (we polished off the last berries on day 11). I use a double-decker strawberry storage system: Fill the first baking sheet full of berries, move the berries around to accommodate a baking rack with legs/feet, and then set the second baking sheet on top of the rack. And it only takes up 1 shelf in the fridge!
– Berries that are scarred with a mark the size of a toddler bite-radius get tossed in the trash. If you have a berry-crazed toddler, you might find that 3 or 4 of these guys sneak into your buckets, too :)

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

Cook. Eat. Sort. Repeat.
When your “must eat tomorrow” bowl is empty, refill it with any berries that were formerly picture-perfect but now need to turn into cake. Or ice cream. Repeat until your 14 lbs of strawberries are gone and you’re left wondering if your husband will have you committed if you mentioned going to pick strawberries again.

What did we do with 14 lbs of strawberries:
– Strawberry Wine (woohoo!)
Strawberry Muffins
Strawberry Scones
– Roasted Strawberry Goat Cheese Ice Cream
– Roasted Strawberry Crostini with Basil and Goat Cheese
– Goat Cheese & Strawberry Panini with Arugula and Balsamic
– Macerated to top pound cake
– Sliced to top a spinach salad
– Eaten straight from the bowl for breakfast and lunch. And dinner. And dessert. And then dessert again.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but I sort of like the strawberry-goat cheese combo. We’ll be sharing some of the recipes over the next couple of weeks so stay tuned!

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Shortbread Snowflake Cookies Decorated with Royal Icing

Danmy selected this week’s Project Pastry Queen challenge: Pretty in Pink Shortbread Cookies. At the Rather Sweet Bakery in Fredericksburg, the cut-out cookies are sold in the shape of a pig and glazed with a pink icing in memory of the baker’s pet pig.

Aside from the occasional nervous twitch and flashbacks to a work top covered with 1000+ icing-less maple leaf cookies (I swear I couldn’t open my hand for a week after that order) and washing decorating bags and piping tips in the large stainless sink at my parents’ bakery, I actually did have a ton of fun with this week’s challenge. Who doesn’t love decorating snowflake sugar cookies when it’s 75 degrees and humid as heck in November :)

The recipe yields a good, solid sugar-shortbread cookie – a deliciously buttery hybrid between a soft sugar cookie and a sandy shortbread cookie. Most definitely one of the top “not from our bakery” recipes that I’ve tried. A couple of changes:
– I made half the recipe and added 1/2 tsp almond extract and a pinch of salt to the recipe.
– I also rolled the cookies a bit thicker than the suggested 1/4 inch and still got 18 large snowflake cookies. The recipe instructs against rolling the dough scraps out more than twice because it creates a “tough cookie.” I rolled the scraps 5 or 6 times and the cookies from the last batch were just as buttery and tender as the first batch.
– I decorated the cookies with royal icing instead of the recommended powdered sugar glaze. And I decorated them with the “I still don’t know if I’m supposed to eat them or not” dragees.

And I learned a new trick to get out of washing decorating bags! Nearly all of my bags are reusable (read: have to be washed) since I inherited them from the bakery. The “plastic wrap trick” worked fabulously - the inside of the bag was completely clean. All I did was pull out the plastic wrap and wash the tip and coupler.

I’m totally ready to go Christmas shopping now :) And ready to tackle my parents’ recipe (12 lbs of flour, anyone?) for a more manageable at-home version to compare them to these cookies. Check out the other Project Pastry Queen members’ take on the cookies and Danmy will have the full recipe on her site.

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How to fix Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

Before today, I’d copy & paste an FAQ at the bottom of each recipe on this site that called for Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Because as amazingly fluffy and decadent as Swiss Meringue Buttercream is, it’s also the problem child of frostings.

That FAQ had a couple of tips to “rescue” a broken swiss meringue buttercream, which is really helpful for people baking Margarita Cupcakes at 11pm on Quatro de Mayo. I thought I’d give those tips their own home and add a couple of pictures of the common problems that I encounter when making the frosting.

So a few months ago, I had my camera ready, just waiting on a batch of frosting to implode. I was going to take pictures of my bowl of “What the heck is this?! I can’t put that on a cake!” and then show you how I fixed it. And wouldn’t you know, it turned out perfectly. First try. And then it happened again and again. And again.

Typical. This stuff has given me some serious fits over the years but I’ve always been able to fix it. Except one time… but my math was wrong. And I can’t blame the frosting for that.

The Recipe
I use a slightly adapted version of Martha Stewart’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It’s smooth, fluffy, not overly sweet, and reliable – and scaled down, it’s basically the exact same recipe we used at my parents’ bakery ages ago. And the two issues that I randomly experience are totally fixable. One batch will frost a 2-layer 8- or 9-inch cake and, for a normal person, should cover 24 cupcakes. But I’m an out-of-control liberal cupcake froster so I sometimes need an extra half-batch to get all my cupcakes frosted. I’m currently seeking help for my problem.

The first step
Beat, beat, beat. I’d let the mixer run for 30 minutes or more when I had problems with the frosting. It always came back together eventually but that was life BT – Before Toddler. I now have a 5 minute rule. If it doesn’t come back together after 5 minutes of beating, I just move on to Plan B. Nap time or those 12 hours of preschool a week are now far too valuable for me to stand there and watch the mixer go ’round.

Help! My frosting is too runny! (AKA, Plan B)

How to fix Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

That is Dulce de Leche Swiss Meringue Buttercream… syrup? Paint? It’s not frosting, that’s for sure. You’ve whipped the egg whites and sugar until it has cooled to room temp and you’ve just reached stiff peaks, you’ve added your butter and everything is looking absolutely perfect until you add the preserves, or citrus juice, or dulce de leche. And then Pbfffffffffffft, your fluffy frosting breaks into a watery mess.

When this happens, I stick it in the fridge for ~20 minutes and bring it back out. Beat the frosting for a few minutes and it should all come back together into a big bowl of magical fluffiness.

How to fix Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

That is Dulce de Leche Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting. And quite possibly the best frosting I’ve ever, ever tasted. But if you’re still having problems with it, keep going.

Help! My frosting is… cottage cheese? What is that?!

How to fix Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

That’s a curdled mess. And just gross. It should have been raspberry swiss meringue buttercream. The technical term for that disaster is “no bueno.” I usually see curdling when I’m re-whipping leftover frosting that has been refrigerated or frozen but occasionally I get it when I’m making a fresh batch.

This was a tip I learned way, way back in the early days of the Daring Baker challenges: take about 1/4 of the frosting out of the bowl and transfer it to a microwave safe bowl. Pop it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds and then stream it back into the bowl while the mixer is running on low. Increase the speed and whip it into a big bowl of fluffy magicalness.

How to fix Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

Can you believe how that pretty, fluffy frosting started out?

So that’s how we do it. If this saves just one batch of frosting from being tossed, then I’ll feel like I’ve helped :) Do you have any frosting tricks or tips to share?

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Chicken Enchiladas for the freezer

With Foodie Baby’s impending arrival, I started thinking about ramping up our deep freezer inventory. As soon-to-be first-time parents, we’ve been told countless times over the last several months that we’re going to be too tired to cook so we should make sure that we have a freezer full of food or delivery on speed-dial. We’ve also been told that we’re going to be too tired to eat… possibly by people who don’t know us very well :)

And then I discovered the great “freezer meal” debate among expecting mothers. Freezer meals are full of processed crap. There’s no way you can eat healthy. I’ll never be so tired that I can’t manage dinner. Good luck getting rid of the baby weight! I get why “freezer meals” come with a negative connotation. I really do. The first things that I used to think of when I heard “freezer meals” were lasagna, sodium-bomb frozen dinners, and “cream of” casseroles.

The idea of the two of us living off the mushy contents of a 13×9 for 4 days straight? No thanks. And the Foodie Groom? Riiiiiight. The dish has to be spectacular – or pizza – for him even touch a leftover. Don’t get me wrong, we do love us some lasagna. But there’s way more to freezer-friendly meals than a vat of lasagna.

Chicken Enchiladas for the freezer

Our deep freezer is now pretty well stocked. We’ve found keeping a variety of our freezer-friendly “greatest hits” on hand has been super helpful, baby or not. We’re not casserole fans. There’s nothing special about the food that goes in there, either – it’s all “normal” food. Prep work is usually limited to moving something from the freezer to the fridge the night before, roasting a veggie, boiling some pasta, or whipping up a salad. And clean-up? Far easier when it’s limited to side-dish prep which is something I can really appreciate since I can turn my kitchen into an OSHA hazard just by making sandwiches!

Not everything can be frozen. Not everything should be frozen. I’ve gone back and added the Freezer Friendly tag to recipes that I’ve made specifically to be frozen and included To freeze instructions, where necessary.

The biggest thing for me was understanding that size does matter. I take advantage of cooking large-batch dishes in portion-friendly containers for the freezer. The throwdown containers that they sell in the baking aisle of my grocery store are cheap and recyclable. And bonus – you don’t deplete your baking dish supply. Soups, pulled pork, and sliced brisket freeze flat in quart-sized zipper baggies. Meatballs get double-batched and divided into two gallon-sized zipper bags for meatball subs or a quick appetizer.

Muffins and bagels (pre-sliced) also get the gallon bag treatment. Enchiladas (recipe below) and manicotti go into 8×8 containers in two-people servings and stuffed shells go into mini-loaf pans in single-servings (7-8 shells each). Chicken pot pie also gets the individual-serving treatment. Lasagna does get baked in the 13×9 vat but the leftovers are wrapped and frozen into individual squares.

Also, another helpful element is letting the freezer do some of my prep work. Nothing is more frustrating than deciding that you want fajitas at 5pm and realizing that you need 2 hours to marinate the meat. It takes less than 5 minutes for me to whip up a batch of fajita marinade and pour it over a flank steak in a freezer bag. The marinade in the bag does double-duty as the meat thaws.

There are also the obvious safety concerns in for-the-freezer food prep, like following appropriate cooling techniques (if I’m making something specifically for the freezer, I’ll use an ice bath to cool it quickly). Check out the USDA’s freezer safety tips for more information. Happy freezing!

Chicken Enchiladas for the freezer

Green Chile-Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
4 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Serranos, diced (seeds-in if you like the heat; reduce to 1 if you’re not a fan of spicy food)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups sour cream
16 oz jar of your favorite tomatillo-based/green salsa
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
12 tortillas, small fajita size
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack
1/2 medium onion, diced

Preheat the oven to 350. Melt butter over medium-high heat. Saute Serranos until soft and then add the garlic, cooking for 1 minute. Stir in the flour and let cook 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the chicken broth until smooth and let cook until bubbly. Stir in the sour cream, salsa, cumin, cayenne, salt, pepper, and cilantro until the sauce is smooth. Remove from heat.

Spray/grease a 9×13 baking dish. Add 1 cup of sauce to the bottom of the pan. Add chicken, cheese, and chopped onion to the center of each tortilla and roll, placing seam-side down in the dish. Pour the sauce over the enchiladas, top with leftover cheese, and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until top is brown and bubbling.

To freeze: Cook the sauce and cool completely (I do it quickly using an ice water bath). Assemble the enchiladas in portion-friendly dishes and wrap well with plastic wrap or foil. To cook thawed, bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes (or to an internal temperature of 165). To cook straight from the freezer, increase the baking time to 45-55 minutes.

Yields: 12-15 enchiladas
Adapted from: Homesick Texan

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