It's easy to get into a cooking rut, especially with a beloved ingredient or go-to dish. There are weeks where I have homemade sweet potato fries with nearly every dinner. And carrots always get the same treatment in my kitchen: sprinkled with salt, pepper and olive oil, and roasted in the oven.
But those old standbys aren't as engaging the 10th time around. And, unless you're cooking for at least four, it can be tough to use up some foods (a carton of heavy cream, a package of zucchini) before they go bad.
That's why we're introducing this new cooking feature, 5 Ideas For ... , where every other week we'll highlight seasonal and trendy ingredients or dishes and offer five ways to cook them. The goal: to help you get the most out of your ingredients — and maybe mix things up a little.
First up: strawberries. They're abundant this time of year, with the season in full force through mid March.
Here in Florida, the second-largest strawberry producer in the country, the growing season begins its gradual climb in November and December, with crops really starting to take off around Christmas.
Gary Parke at Parke Hydro Farms in Dover says this year's crop is going to be an impressive one, growing well since those early months.
"The volume is coming in good, with no major disease or insect problem. It's one of those years that we're looking forward to," Parke says. (One of his favorite things to do with strawberries? A dessertlike strawberry pizza his wife makes. And the standard go-to: a big bowl of plain, cut-up strawberries.)
Wish Farms director of marketing Amber Kosinsky says this February's weather — lots of cool, dry, sunny days hovering in the 60s and 70s — is ideal for strawberry growing. The berries are allowed to stay on the plant longer when it's cold, letting them develop and ripen nicely.
So what to do with the bounty? Strawberries are perfect for desserts, but they are also highly versatile, brightening up everything from spinach salads to champagne. They pair well with the acidity of balsamic vinegar, and taste exquisite roasted. Here are five ways to use them.
Place 3 cups coarsely chopped strawberries in a saucepan with 1 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Stir to coat strawberries in sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and mash the strawberries with the back of your spoon as they cook. Reduce heat to medium and let cook for about 20 minutes, uncovered, until thickened, careful not to let the bottom burn. Let sit for another 20 minutes to thicken up, then serve on toast or refrigerate for up to two weeks.
One of our general cooking rules is that almost any vegetable and plenty of fruits taste better when roasted. That includes strawberries. To make this grilled cheese, quarter 6 to 8 strawberries, toss them with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt, and roast them on a baking sheet in a 375-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Place 2 buttered slices of bread in a skillet over medium heat or in a sandwich press, and top each with 1 ounce of Brie cheese and 1 ounce of dark chocolate. Top each slice with strawberries, another ounce of Brie and another slice of buttered bread. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and cook until both sides are golden.
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Combine 4 cups fresh halved strawberries, ? cup sugar and ¼ cup water in a saucepan. Bring just to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Press mixture through a fine strainer; discard solids. In a 2-quart container, mix syrup, 1 (750-milliliter) bottle of white wine, a ½ cup of sliced strawberries and 1 sliced orange. Just before serving, stir in ½ cup sparkling water.
Mix 1 cup strawberries, ¼ medium yellow or red pepper and ¼ medium red onion, all finely diced, in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons lime juice and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil; adjust to taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chicken or fish. This salsa gets better the longer it sits.
Place ¼ cup quinoa and ½ cup water in a saucepan over medium-high heat, cooking until water is absorbed and quinoa is soft. Fluff with fork. Place ½ cup vanilla yogurt in a bowl, and top with ¼ cup cooked quinoa (I like the juxtaposition between warm quinoa and cold yogurt, but you can cool the quinoa for a few minutes first if you'd like) and ½ cup fresh sliced strawberries.