Monday, July 4, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake

Today's the perfect day to enjoy a classic American dessert (and one of my all-time favorites): Strawberry Shortcake! I love this recipe because it's quick and easy to make. Chances are you already have all of the ingredients in your kitchen.

As with any baking endeavor, it's helpful to get organized. First things first: place one stick of unsalted butter into the freezer about a half hour before you're ready to start. Make sure your kitchen counters are clean (to roll out the dough) or if you're short on counter space, place a sheet of floured parchment paper over a large cutting board. Clean and cut the strawberries, to which I highly recommend you add a tiny bit of crushed black pepper and a few teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. Trust me.

Now we're ready to start! Mix 2 cups plus 2 T flour, 1/2 t salt, 1 T baking powder, and 3 T sugar in a food processor. Cut your frozen butter into small cubes and add to the flour mixture, pulsing until the butter is the size of peas. It's important that you can still see chunks of butter in the dough because when the ice cold butter hits the hot oven the water content from the butter will quickly evaporate, creating a flaky and scrumptious shortcake. If you don't have a food processor, you can grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture and use your hands to mix everything together.

In a small bowl, whisk 1 egg into a 1/2 cup light cream. (I didn't have any "light" cream, so I just mixed heavy cream with the 2% milk I had in the fridge ... et voilĂ , light cream!) Add the creamy egg mixture to the food processor, little by little, until the dough comes together. Turn out the dough onto your lightly floured counter (or cutting board) and press into a flat ball with your hands. Be careful not to overwork the dough; it's not a pizza. Lightly flour your rolling pin and roll out the dough until it's about a 1/2 inch thick. Use the rim of a drinking glass to cut out your shortcakes and then transfer them to a cookie sheet. Place them in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to allow the dough to chill after having been worked and heated by your hands. I've never regarded the timeframe as an exact science, and I usually take them out of the fridge when I start getting impatient. This method seems to work for me!

While your shortcakes are chilling, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Right before you're ready to put them in the oven, brush a little whisked egg white over the shortcakes and sprinkle with sugar, giving them a sparkly crust. Bake for 15 minutes, or until they're lightly golden. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

To serve, slice the shortcakes lengthwise and place a spoonful of strawberries onto the bottom half. Add a healthy (read generous) dollop of whipped cream and place the "lid" on top, creating a strawberry shortcake sandwich. The results are over-the-moon delicious. You will want to put on your bathing suit and dive in. Happy Fourth of July!

Recipe courtesy of Nigella Lawson.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bucks County Weekend

Bucks County is one of my favorite places to visit when I need to just get away. Besides being the home of my beloved Hamilton's Grill Room (and only an hour from Manhattan), Bucks County has tons of shops, activities, and scenic beauty to brighten your heart for the weekend.

The Woolverton Inn is our home away from home. Carolyn and Bob are the doting innkeepers of this gorgeous estate in Stockton, New Jersey. The rooms are so cozy and the surrounding countryside invites a much-needed exhale from city life. We stay in the Garden Cottage, where pets are allowed. Ellie loves the accommodations.

Also in Stockton is Phillips' Fine Wines, an experience in and of itself. The owner, Dick Phillips, is the most delightful man; he gave us a tour of the store, which feels more like a wine library with its tiny rooms and hidden hallways. My eyes lit up when he told us stories about Julia Child and her frequent visits to Phillips' when Dick was a kid (Julia and her beloved, Paul, were married in Stockton). Perhaps she came here to buy those "full-bodied young red wine[s]" with which she would make her famous Boeuf Bourgingnon ...

Right next store to Phillips' is the Stockton Farmers' Market, home to local vendors selling everything from fresh produce to specialty products. Open only on the weekends, the market is a feast for the eyes (and the stomach)!

Nearby in Lambertville I found a great housewares shop called Zinc Home and Garden (74 Bridge Street). The modern farmhouse style was right up my alley! You'll find an amazing collection of industrial and vintage pieces displayed with an inspiring dose of creativity.

When you're done with your shopping I highly recommend a walk along the Delaware River—the perfect Sunday morning activity before heading home—where you can take in the views and connect with things exactly as they are.

Perhaps the greatest part of any weekend adventure is the fact that you can arrive without an agenda. Billy and I love the aimless wandering and the process of making a new place our own. In New York I often find it hard to separate myself from the rhythm of the city, whereas in a foreign town I can be immersed in a new place and yet remain present in my own experience. After a weekend in Bucks County I feel relaxed and completely reconnected. I hope you find the same!