If you are a regular reader, you may be wondering why I haven’t been posting as frequently in the past several weeks. Maybe it’s a bit of spring fever, since spring seems to have finally arrived and is creating a distraction with warm, gorgeous days, and a burning desire to be outdoors. And then again…maybe it’s not.
While I wish I could tell you that I’ve been playing hooky and enjoying the beautiful weather, alas, it’s not true. Instead, I’ve been busier than expected in the final planning stages of our culinary tour to Virginia. We’re just days away and it’s shaping up to be an extraordinary event.
Springtime has also arrived in Virginia. Monticello, Jefferson’s historic garden, and Manakintowne Specialty Growers’ farm are bursting in emerald spring green and the orchard at Monticello is in full bloom. I can’t wait to see how beautiful our outdoor events will be at the farm and on the mountain beginning this Sunday.
Here in Georgia, our local strawberries are not quite in season. We have been fortunate, however, to find berries from neighboring Florida that are deep red in color, ripe, and luscious. They smell the way a strawberry should and are very sweet and juicy. When they are this perfect, you don’t need to do much to enhance their natural goodness, but there a few simple methods of preparation that I often use to dress up ordinary strawberries for a special dessert.
Macerating strawberries with balsamic vinegar and sugar is an easy way to make an elegant and quick dessert. I will also toss in a little freshly ground black pepper on occasion for a bit of heat (an Ina Garten recipe). Served with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream, it is always a hit with guests.
One of the perks of writing about food and travel is that I often have the opportunity to try unusual specialty food products. It’s exciting to get goodie boxes in the mail filled with unique items and find new ways to recreate old favorite recipes using these products.
It is satisfying to taste a new recipe and discover that the combinations of flavors come together and make your mouth sing. Each bite of the strawberries in this dessert was unique, with a bit of sweetness, tanginess, smokiness, and some crunch from the bourbon sugar topping. Honey Ridge Farms’ Honey Balsamic Vinegar made a great substitution for the regular combination of balsamic vinegar and sugar. A pinch of Bourbon Barrel Foods’ Bourbon Smoked Pepper added that peppery bite, but with a subtle hint of bourbon.
The macerated strawberries were topped with a whipped Madagascar Vanilla Bean Crème Fraîche from Vermont Creamery. This was rich, yet balanced with the fresh fruit and had a wonderful vanilla flavor. I liked the tanginess of the crème fraîche and when combined with a generous sprinkling of Bourbon Barrel Foods’ Smoked Bourbon Sugar, it created the perfect amount of sweetness, with a slight twist.
Don’t let springtime and strawberry season pass you by without trying this recipe for Honey Balsamic Macerated Strawberries with Whipped Vanilla Crème Fraîche. It’s easy enough for a weeknight family dessert and elegant enough to serve to guests.
* You can substitute other products in this recipe, but if you have a chance to try some of these specialty items, I highly recommend them. There are many ways that you can change up some of your regular recipes and make them really stand out when you use unique products from smaller producers.
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Honey Balsamic Strawberries with Whipped Vanilla Crème Fraîche
Yield: 3 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
If you like your strawberries a bit sweeter, you can add a little sugar, to taste. If you prefer to top the strawberries with something lighter than crème fraîche, you can use slightly sweetened fromage blanc with a little bit of vanilla extract or fresh vanilla beans in its place.
1 pound fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and thickly sliced (about 3 cups)
4 teaspoons Honey Ridge Farm's Balsamic Honey Vinegar
1/8 teaspoon Bourbon Barrel Food's Bourbon Smoked Pepper
3 ounces Vermont Creamery's Madagascar Vanilla Crème Fraîche, lightly whipped
Bourbon Barrel Food's Bourbon Smoked Sugar, for sprinkling
Place the strawberries in a medium bowl and add the Balsamic Honey Vinegar. Toss well, cover, and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes (but no more than an hour).
Right before serving, place the crème fraîche in a small bowl and whip lightly with an electric beater.
Spoon strawberries into serving dishes, top with whipped crème fraîche, and sprinkle generously with the smoked sugar. Serve immediately.