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Jestei took the delicious combination of strawberries, balsamic vinegar and freshly ground black pepper and expanded it into a salad with mixed greens, finely chopped celery and fennel. As we were making the salad, we realized that it's the kind of dish that should only be made with produce and fruit from a farmers market. You need flavorful and sturdy mixed greens and sweet, concentrated strawberries. We chopped the fennel and celery in 1/4-inch dice and mixed them with the greens and dressing before adding the stawberries, so the juices wouldn't weep too much. And in case you're looking for measurements for the dressing, we used 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and plenty of salt and pepper.
This dessert is a clever riff on strawberry shortcake. Even though the biscuits contain whole wheat flour, you won't believe how feathery and tender they are. Sara has you assemble the dough in the food processor, which takes all of five minutes, and she offers you the option of brushing the biscuits with cream and sprinkling with sugar -- we used demerara -- before baking, which we definitely recommend. It gives the tops a little crunch. Also, we couldn't find fresh lavender so we used 1/2 tablespoon dried. (When replacing a fresh herb with dried, using half the fresh amount is standard.)
The simplest ingredients, of the highest quality, result in a truly complex salad.
Merrill hulls strawberries (the first round of many that day), while Amanda chops up the fennel fronds -- no need to toss these flavorful tops of the more popular bulb, they taste great in the salad.
The recipe called for "bite sized" pieces of fennel -- we decided on about 1/4-inch sized pieces. Fennel is oddly shaped, so we chose to cut it using the method many people use to cut their onions. If we're going to be snooty about it, the technical culinary school term is "ciseler" which translates into "to chisel." Regardless, it's a great way to get relatively uniform pieces out of bulbous vegetables.
We cut the celery into 1/4-inch pieces as well.
We chose to toss together all the ingredients with the simple vinaigrette before we added the strawberries. This prevented the delicate berries from getting unnecessarily bruised.
The directions told us to add "loads of pepper" so we did. We didn't have plain black peppercorns, so we used a rainbow mix, and it worked beautifully.
After playing with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, we settled on 2 tablespoons vinegar and 3 tablespoons olive oil. We also added a healthy dose of salt.
We found we used just 1 1/2 cups of the strawberries to achieve a good sweet/savory balance. The remainder of the pint was appreciated as a snack. After we added the strawberries, we tossed until just mixed through.
Amanda takes her tasting VERY seriously.
Strawberries with Lavender Biscuits
The ingredients! It's worth finding the whole wheat pastry flour- it adds a really nice texture to the biscuits.
We used 2 tablespoons of light brown sugar in the biscuits -- and though it's not specified, brown sugar should always be packed.
The dry biscuit ingredients. As we were using dried lavender, we found that only 1/2 tablespoon was needed to impart a nice, delicate lavendar aroma.
Pulse the dry ingredients until they're blended, and the lavender flowers are crushed and homogenous.
The directions specified to add the butter one tablespoon at a time, but we added it all at once (years of biscuit making habits are hard to break) and they turned out beautifully.
Amanda added the cream with the food processor on, and mixed until just barely incorporated. The dough was quite tacky, and there were a few visible patches of cream, but you really want to avoid over-blending.
We scooped 8 even pieces onto the baking sheet, and delicately formed them into slightly more beautiful shapes.
We opted to brush each liberally with cream...
... and top with dermerara sugar, which added great crunch! And to the oven!
While the biscuits were baking, we hulled and halved (even quartered, depending on size) the strawberries.
Then, we tossed the prepped strawberries with 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar (light would work as well, but we were out) and allowed the berries to macerate for about an hour.
Biscuits! They'll feel soft when they're done, but the bottoms will be nicely browned. Allow to cool.
The biscuits are SO tender and SO delicate (in a very good way) that a serrated knife is the way to go when slicing them.
This dessert really highlights perfect strawberries -- so be generous with them! Add a dollop of creme fraiche, and you've got a gorgeous dessert.