Berry optimistic

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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Frost is not far behind us, but the baskets and boxes of berries in the grocery store are buoying up my natural, if unfounded, optimism that heat is on the way.

We need to be prepared and although the berries are not quite at their prime yet, they are at least in all the sale flyers and that’s a start.

Raspberry Lemon Bran Muffins

You just can’t buy a raspberry muffin with enough fruit flavour so that if you closed your eyes you’d be able to identify the main ingredients. That won’t be a problem with these — they burst with freshness and they’re still not too bad for you. These make a fabulous breakfast treat, not too sweet, but satisfying enough to last until lunch.

This recipe makes 12 medium-to-large muffins.

1 cup skim milk

1 lemon, zest finely grated and 2 tbsp. of the juice

1-1/2 cups wheat bran

1 tsp. vanilla

1 egg

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. each baking powder and baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup fresh or frozen (unthawed) raspberries

Combine milk and two tbsp. lemon juice in a large bowl and allow to sit for a minute or two. Stir in bran and allow to soak for 10 minutes. Whisk in vanilla, egg, oil and brown sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and add dry ingredients all at once to soaked bran mixture. Mix only until there are no big streaks of white — don’t try and beat out the lumps. Gently fold in raspberries and lemon zest.

These stick like the dickens so you really should line your pan with paper muffin cups and coat them with a generous squirt of non-stick cooking spray. Divide batter among the 12 and bake at 400 F for 15 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan five minutes then remove to a wire rack.

Strawberry Avocado Salad with Creamy Dressing

You can get a strawberry salad in fast food joints these days so it’s hardly exotic, but paying attention to the quality of the ingredients and spending a couple of minutes creating the perfect dressing elevates this simple mixture to fine dining.

The creaminess of the avocado and the crunch of the almonds make this a perfect textural treat, and visually it is stunning.

If you haven’t tried champagne vinegar this is your chance to branch out. It has a cleaner, brighter taste than balsamic while still not offering quite the bite of white vinegar. You can substitute sherry or apple cider but neither will give you quite the same result.

To toast almonds, put them in a dry frying pan over medium heat and jiggle them around until they are golden brown.

You can make the dressing ahead but don’t assemble the salad until just before you plan to serve it.

This amount serves six for lunch.

Dressing:

3 tbsp. each mayonnaise and champagne vinegar

2 tsp. honey

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salad:

2 cups each arugula, iceberg and romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped

2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and thickly sliced

2 avocados, sliced

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

1/4 cup goat or blue cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Stir together mayonnaise, vinegar, honey and mustard until mixture is smooth. Whisking constantly; add olive oil gradually to form a creamy consistency. Stir in salt and pepper.

To make the salad, Toss arugula with iceberg and romaine lettuce. Add strawberries, avocados, onion, goat cheese and prepared dressing and stir gently so as not to break up the avocado slices. Top with almonds and serve at once.

Blackberry and Dulce de Leche Dessert Tacos

The slight bitterness of blackberries perfectly balances the sweet richness of these unusual treats.

You can find dulce de leche, a Latin-American caramel sauce, as a flavour in sweetened condensed milk or a standalone topping. Plain caramel sundae sauce is a decent substitute.

If you’re at all artistic think about what toppings might be good on these — shredded mango representing cheddar cheese, for example, or a chiffonade of mint in place of lettuce.

You might be surprised to see the tarragon, but the flavours complement each other perfectly and give you something to talk about over coffee.

Allow one tortilla per person but don’t yell at me if everyone demands seconds.

2 cups whipping cream

1 cup dulce de leche

2 tbsp. butter, divided

6 to 8, 8-inch flour tortillas, regular or whole wheat

2 to 3 cups fresh blackberries

1 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon leaves (optional)

Whip cream until soft peaks form. Add dulce de leche two tbsp. at a time, beating well after each until completely incorporated. When it’s all in there, turn up the speed and give it a good beating until the cream is thick, smooth and a good spreading consistency; set aside.

Put a small bit of the butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add a tortilla and fry until a few golden spots start appearing on the bottom. You aren’t going for a hard texture, although a few crispy bits around the edges are delicious. Flip the tortilla and repeat on the other side. Keep the tortillas warm in the oven set at 250 F while you fry the rest, using a new dab of butter each time.

Stir together blackberries and tarragon.

Spread some of the whipped cream mixture on each tortilla and divide blackberries among them. Fold over to form tacos and serve.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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