The Main Menu: Strawberries are in season

Strawberries are here! Earlier than ever this year, because of the warmer winter and early spring, they made their debut about three weeks early. Last evening was my first introduction to their distinctive flavour. Up to that point, I had been nibbling on the imported imitation. You know the kind – gigantic with a slight taste and fragrance of ‘strawberry’ enough at least to tantalize until our own genuine varieties appear on the market. There is no comparison. Ontario strawberries have fragrance, especially at room temperature and their taste is like no other, rich, full and juicy full of luscious strawberry sweetness. Yum!! I cannot get enough of them. For maximum flavour, they are perfect served at room temperature simply rinsed and eaten. They need little embellishment but make wonderful additions to salads, desserts and baking of all kinds. Here are some inspirations from Foodland Ontario.

Strawberries All Year Round
If you pick strawberries or have access to a quantity of berries, you may wish to freeze them. Follow these simple instructions and enjoy all year. Hull strawberries and remove leaves. Wash in several changes of water until water comes away clean.  Gently dry berries on tea towel. Arrange berries in single layer on parchment lined baking sheet. Place in freezer and freeze until firm (this will take several hours). Pack berries in quantities you would use ie. 2 or 4 cups (500 mL or 1 L) in freezer bags. Berries freeze well for up to one year.

Freezable Ontario Strawberry Sauce
The fresh taste of summer in the dead of winter – how great is that? Simply prepare this easy strawberry sauce, then come the cold season, thaw and customize with our variations. Of course, it’s perfect for serving over ice-cream, yogurt or a simple cake. There’s even a savoury version for pork or chicken.
2 cups (500 mL) sliced strawberries
3 tbsp (45 mL) granulated sugar
2 tbsp (25 mL) water
2 tsp (10 mL) fresh lemon juice
In food processor, puree berries, sugar, water and lemon juice until smooth. Turn into medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat stirring occasionally, until sugar is completely dissolved and sauce is slightly translucent, about three minutes. Let cool; freeze in airtight container.
Spice: Stir in 1/2 tsp (2 mL) cinnamon and 1/4 tsp (1 mL) each nutmeg and aniseed. Makes 1 cup (250 mL).
Rhubarb Berry: In medium saucepan, combine sauce with 1/3 cup (75 mL) very finely chopped rhubarb: simmer, sitting, just until rhubarb is softened. Stir in 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla, and sugar to taste. Makes 1 1/2 cups (300 mL).
Savoury Compote: Stir in 4 tsp (20 mL) balsamic vinegar, 1 smashed garlic clove, 1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated gingerroot, and 1/4 tsp (1 mL) each salt and hot pepper flakes. Remove garlic. Best served warm or at room temperature over chcken or pork. Makes 1 cup (250 mL).
Orange Rosewater: Stir in 2 tsp (10 mL) each, rosewater and grated orange rind. Makes 1 cup (250 mL).

Strawberry-topped Brie
This colourful warm cheese makes a great party dish served with thin slices of baguette.
1 lb (500 g) round brie cheese
2 tsp (10 mL) Amaretto of Frangelico liqueur (optional)
1 tbsp (15 mL) packed brown sugar
1 cup (250 mL) strawberries (preferably small) hulled
2 tbsp (25 mL) maple syrup
2 tbsp (25 mL) sliced almonds or filberts
With a sharp knife, remove top rind from cheese. Place cheese in an ovenproof dish just slightly bigger than the cheese. Pour liqueur over top (if using). Sprinkle with brown sugar.  Arrange strawberries stem-side down on cheese to cover top. Drizzle with maple syrup, sprinkle with nuts. Place dish on unlit side of a barbecue or medium heat, close lid and grill for about 15 minutes, or until cheese is soft and starts to ooze over the edge.

Strawberry Lemonade
The strawberry base for the lemonade keeps for days in the refrigerator so that you can make this refreshing drink any time you have a craving for it.
2 cups (500 mL) strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/2 cup (125 mL) frozen lemonade concentrate
1/4 cup (50 mL) granulated sugar
2 cups (500 mL) chilled soda water
ice cubes
whole strawberries
In a blender (not food processor) blend together strawberries, lemonade concentrate and sugar until smooth. For each drink pour equal amounts strawberry mixture and soda water into tall glass. Stir and add ice cubes. Garnish with whole strawberry.

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