Yum! Strawberries with Dark Chocolate and Homemade Cream

To Cake or Not to Cake . . .

I’m standing in the middle of the Giant food store, and I don’t know whether to feel guilty or justified when I am thinking that Betty Crocker’s Angel Food Cake boxed mix, a “recipe” that only has one other ingredient necessary—water, is just too much for me to even consider making.

Aisle 5: I pick up the cake mix and ponder. This lady next to me is grating my nerves because she keeps going from one side of the cake section to the other. I move my cart out of her way, to no avail. Where ever I am standing, she is also. Hey, Lady, I am debating Angel Food here, okay. Is there something I can do you for? After about one minute of this, she decides on one of those Betty Crocker mini-microwave desserts and then ambles down the aisle with her cart. Au revoir.

Now I’ve a moment to consider my dessert options.

Let’s see. I’ve already planned to cook a Winter Pasta* from 101 Cookbooks that I can only hope goes well because making the dish involves pots, bowls, strainers, and a food processor, for crying out loud. My counter has been screaming at me, “I can only house so much cooking paraphernalia.”

Well, la ti da is my response. We cover you in granite, and this is what we get?

While making the pasta does involve a gadget this or a tool that, making dessert really does not, unless we’re talking about the hand mixer, which I will use to make homemade cream . . . to top the strawberries . . . that will top this cake that will or will not be. If I make the cake, then we’ll have a gadget parade and lots of cake lying around over the weekend.

These two thoughts are cumbersome. Back goes the cake mix. Must. Remember. Rule: Make baked goods on a work night. When my co-workers aren’t in the mood to eat baked goods (in January, right after New Year’s resolutions), I simply stand in the hallway of the high school where I teach, hold the baked good away from my body and watch a congregation of teenage boys form.

Cake mix returned, now I move on to the dairy aisle. Yep, I’ll make strawberries and cream—oh, and chocolate! Really, there must be chocolate. Return to aisle five. Ghirardelli’s dark chocolate chips, to melt. Then just freeze the rest of the chips. Yes, freezing them helps me justify the purchase. Also, berries are good for me, and the cream’ll be eaten up in a jif. Angel Food cake is overrated anyhow when there is chocolate in the vicinity.

With my problems solved, I stroll toward the checkout counter.

Enter discount code . . . Beep. Beep. Beep.

Then again, just imagine that berries, chocolate and cream atop the Angel food cake? Yikes, what a combo!

To the man in line behind me, “Excuse me, sir, can you hold on just a sec? I’m just running over to aisle five for something I forgot?” He rolls his eyes at me. I just knew he’d understand.

Strawberries with Dark Chocolate and Cream

Really, though, I never went back for the Angel Food cake. That was just for the narrative. If you wanted to make it a part of this dessert, however, it’d be a great addition. This dessert, as presented, is really easy to make, and if you prepped the cream and cut the berries beforehand, it’d be a fabulous dessert for when you have guests. Another idea to make it even easier for having guests is to melt the chocolate and dip the strawberries beforehand for chocolate-covered strawberries and then just put it all into a bowl for presentation and top it with the cream when the time arrives. Even easier? Store-bought whipped cream, but I’d suggest making the homemade cream every time. You’ll be glad you did.  

Prep level:    Super easy                               

Total time/actual prep time:   25/12                Serves: 4-6

Ingredients :

  • ½ pint Heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Approximately 1.5 Tablespoons powdered sugar (add to taste)
  • four pinches of cream of tartar
  • 1 lb. strawberries
  • approximately 5 oz. dark chocolate chips (I prefer Ghirardelli.)

Instructions:

To prep homemade cream:

  1. (preferable but still optional) Place hand mixer beaters and bowl in freezer for about 10 minutes.

  2. Remove items from freezer. Pour heavy cream into bowl. Beat with electric hand mixer on low for approximately four minutes.

  3. As you are mixing, add in vanilla and powdered sugar and cream of tartar. Mix for another 1-2 minutes. Place in refrigerator while you prep the rest of the dish. *I beat the cream until it is frothy and thickened; most recipes tell me that the cream will thicken enough to form peaks, but I honestly managed only to form light peaks. The cream of tartar is what helps with this; if you do not have cream of tartar or do not want to buy it just for this, you can skip it, but the cream will not become as firm.

To prep strawberries and chocolate:

  1. Rinse strawberries and cut the stems from each. Then, cut the berries into bite-sized pieces. Put in refrigerator.
  2. Into a small saucepan set to low heat and pre-warmed*, add chocolate chips. Constantly stir until chocolate is smooth. *For best results, do not pour chips into room temperature sauce pan.

Preparation:

  1. Into a small bowl or medium-sized coffee mug, add a hearty layer of berries and hefty dollops of both the chocolate and the cream. Finally, top with a small dollop of chocolate and a small strawberry, for garnish. Serve immediately.

Happy cooking! Happy eating!

*You saw Winter Pasta listed in the narrative preceding the dessert recipe. It turned out to be a delicious dish worthy of sharing and a great use for kale.

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Recipe! Peppers and Pancetta with Grits

Grits, grits and more grits. They are smooth, buttery, sometimes cheesy, and they are the perfect antidote for chilly winter days, even though this January, at least, is shaping up to be a mild one. All the more reason to stock up on and spoon in grits ahead of time; your body will be conditioned for the warm grit onslaught that should be a key component of the chilliest part of winter. I have made this grits dish for three dinners so far. The last time I made it, I whipped up some Paula Deen’s Homemade biscuits, too, and, while chomping on a biscuit, thought that while this dish served as a great dinner, it would be the perfect dish for a brunch . . . and easy, too.

Mmmmm . . . grits and anything is a great combination! If you aren’t really familiar with grits, let’s get you there:

  • What are grits? coursely ground hominy
  • What is hominy? it is when the bran and germ have been removed from a piece of corn
  • Each year, St. George, SC hosts the World Grits Festival! The festival started there because they’d realized at one point that they were the place that ate “more grits per capita than any other place in the world.”* The festival holds an event called “Rolling in the Grits,” which sounds absolutely a mess but awesome, too.
  • GRITS is the acronym for the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transaction and Services, a unit that handles vaccination records and disease prevention for the state. Once you know this fact, just forget about it when eating your grits.
  • Speaking of Georgia, I learned that they made grits their State Prepared Food back in 2002. I’ve gotta say, “Dammit, Louisiana! What the hell were you waiting around for, a personal invitation?”
  • Grits is a Nashville-based musical act, and their music is not what you are thinking, I bet. Get a taste.
  • Back to South Carolina’s St. George . . . Major reason to support St. George’s World Grits Festival: it has churned out recipes including Deep Fried Grits-n-Cheese, Hot Tomato Grits and Hush Puppy Grits. There’s no way to go wrong with grits in any form, especially fried.
  • Across the internet, a factoid abounds that 3/4 of the grits sold in the U.S. are sold in the “grits belt,” the area of the country that covers Texas to Virginia.

That grits is a Southern-based food should not deter you. Time to own those grits.

Peppers and Pancetta with Grits

Ingredients:

Makes enough for four.

*Note: You can also substitute couscous for the grits in this dish. Cook according to directions on the package. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see pictures of both dishes.

For grits:

  • 3/4 cup old fashioned grits (Quaker or similar)
  • 3/5 cups water
  • 1/2 – 1 Tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper

For peppers and pancetta:

  • 1.5 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 shallot, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bag of mini peppers (10-11 rainbow peppers in a bag) or 3-4 large peppers, chopped
  • 3/4 Tablespoon butter
  • 6 slices or approx. 6 ozs. pancetta, loosely chopped

*Please prep your ingredients. It will really make your cooking more enjoyable.

For grits:

1. Cook grits according to directions on package. I have based my ingredients on the Quaker Old Fashioned Grits product. This product advises you to cook your grits for 15-20 minutes, but I cook mine a little longer to help with water reduction. When I cook my grits, there is still some water at the top of my grits after about 23 minutes or so, but I pull the pot from the heat and let it sit while I finish up my peppers, and the results are delicious.

NOTE: ** I would advise against turning up the heat to speed up the process because grits will harden.  Just be sure to start testing your grits after about 15 minutes to get them to your liking.

2. I add my salt throughout the process and then add my pepper and butter at the end of the process; I do it all to taste.

For peppers and onions (while grits are cooking):

1. To a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and chopped garlic. Let saute for one minute.

2. Add shallot and onion to skillet; lightly salt and pepper. Saute for approximately 3.5 minutes.

3. Add all of your peppers; lightly salt and pepper. Add 3/4 Tablespoon butter to pan. Saute for approximately 6.5 minutes.

NOTE: **With all of these time allotments, I am working on browning and doneness. My goal is for my onions to be browned and for my peppers to be lightly browned but still have some mild crunchiness to them. Monitor your cooking to achieve the consistency you desire. Overcooking will lead to soggier peppers. Some people like it this way.

4. Line a plate with a paper towel. After the peppers are to your desired consistency, transfer all of the sauteed ingredients to the plate. Return the skillet to the (still functioning) burner.

5. To the same skillet, add the pancetta. Render until golden brown, which takes approximately 5 minutes.

6. When pancetta is ready, return peppers and onions back to same skillet. Stir ingredients together, move burner to low setting, heat for one minute.

7. To ready dish for presentation, make a bed of grits on a plate. Place peppers and onions atop grits. If desired and you have it, add a sprig of parsley or similar for a hint of green. You can also make these peppers on a bed of couscous for a lighter dish.

Peppers and Pancetta with Couscous