Archive for June, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake

June 24, 2014
Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake

My granddaughters and I slipped out of the big blue van and peered down from the fifth floor of the parking garage next to the Evanston Farmers’ Market. There they were, swaths of red spilling across long tables: strawberries. We trotted downstairs with baskets in hand, looking for the best berries. They were all delicious, and I finally made my pick from a Michigan farmer and her two sons whose deep ruby berries caught my eye. We tasted the fruit scarlet to the core, dripping with juice. I cradled the boxes and vowed never to look at another store-bought Driscoll. It was time to pay more for the real thing. They wouldn’t be around long; they wouldn’t come in plastic clamshells; they wouldn’t keep all week in the fridge. It was time for Strawberry Shortcake.

Classic American Strawberry Shortcake is a buttery sweet biscuit, split and filled with sugared berries and whipped cream. It’s pure indulgence—not a low-fat concept—something not to be missed, at least once a year. The berries must be soft and juicy; cold storage supermarket berries will never do. The biscuit dough must be “short” or rich with butter—thus shortbread cookies, shortcake, shortening (vegetable fat). I’m sticking with pure butter for my shortcake and gilding the lily with heavy cream for the liquid. These feather-light little cakes are perfect nests for juicy spoonfuls of sliced berries and clouds of whipped cream. If they seem like too much for dessert, try them for breakfast or brunch. The strawberry fields won’t be with us forever.

A note on whipping cream: Look for heavy cream that is not ultra-pasteurized. The long-life version (ultra-pasteurized) is difficult to whip and has a slightly “cooked” flavor. Ultra- pasteurized dairy products are heated 100° higher than regular pasteurized dairy items and have stabilizing additives such as carrageenan. For this once-a-year treat, pure pasteurized heavy cream is your best bet.

Cream Biscuit Shortcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour (5 oz.)

1½ tablespoons powdered sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt (a tiny bit more if using unsalted butter)

2 tablespoons butter (1 oz.)

½ cup + 1 scant tablespoon cream

sugar to sprinkle on tops

Preheat oven to 400°.

Sift flour, powdered sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Slice over the chilled butter and rub in with fingertips. Make a well in center of flour mixture, pour in ½ cup cream and stir together with fingertips. Add extra cream if dough seems dry. Roll dough into a ball. Knead just a few turns on lightly floured counter. Pat or roll into a circle at least ½ inch thick. Stamp out circles with 2-inch cutter and place on baking sheet. Reroll scrapes to cut more circles. Brush tops with water and sprinkle with sugar. Bake about 12 minutes or until golden. Makes 6-8 shortcakes.

Split while warm and fill with sliced, sugared berries and whipped cream; serve with more berries.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon






Sautéed Whitefish

June 8, 2014
whitefish with asparagus

whitefish with asparagus

A general rule: foods that grow together go together. Likewise, harvests that come to market at the same time of year often make the best combinations. This marriage of seasonal produce was a happy occurrence for us the other evening when I paired local asparagus with fresh whitefish just in from Lake Superior. Most of this past winter the Great Lakes were frozen over; fishing came to a halt. Spring now offers abundant, juicy whitefish. If fresh wild-caught whitefish might seem uninteresting, with a proper hand over the pan, these fillets are succulent fare.

Before we get to the fish, which will cook in six to seven minutes, let’s consider the asparagus. You’ll want to use every morsel of this treasured local crop, so plan to quickly blanch the top six inches of each spear and slice the lower segments for a vegetable braise. Combined with onion, a small potato, garlic, a little chili and fresh herbs, the tender braised asparagus will form a base for the quickly sautéed fish. Meanwhile, the blanched asparagus spears, lightly glazed with butter or olive oil next to a pool of yogurt mint sauce, will complete the plate. Add a sprinkle of fresh mint and some chive flowers for something better than restaurant fare.

Lake Whitefish, a freshwater fish that’s a subfamily of the salmon, are indigenous to our North American Great Lakes. They usually come to market as skin-on fillets (though if you ever see whitefish whole, they are excellent baked or grilled; bone-in fish always have more flavor and nutrition than fillets). The skin may be eaten; it’s delicious.

Sautéed Whitefish with Braised Asparagus

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup diced onion

1–2 cloves garlic minced

2–3 sliced chopped Serrano chili (optional)

1 small diced potato, ½ cup

¼ cup chicken stock or water

sliced tender ends from 1 lb. asparagus (a cup or more)

fresh herbs to taste—garlic chives, sorrel, mint

1–2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)

salt and pepper


12 oz fillet whitefish cut in three portions

flour seasoned with salt and pepper

½ tablespoon olive oil


yogurt mint sauce (see previous entry, May 29, 2014)

Gently sweat the onion, garlic and chili in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add diced potato, chicken stock or water, asparagus ends, salt. Cover and cook until potato and asparagus are tender. Add fresh herbs and simmer a few more minutes. Taste for seasonings, adding a little lemon juice if you have no sorrel and a spoonful of cream for luxury.

Set braised veg aside on a warm corner of the stove while you blanch the asparagus tops and sauté the fish. The asparagus will cook perfectly in three minutes in boiling, salted water. To sauté the fish heat a heavy cast iron skillet and film it with half a tablespoon oil.

When the oil shimmers with heat, sprinkle the top of the fish pieces with kosher salt and dredge the skin side in season flour. Shake off any excess and place fish skin side down in the hot oil. Allow the fish to cook for 3–4 minutes or until nicely browned underneath.

Reduce heat to moderate, cover and cook another 3 minutes or just until the top loses the raw look, turning opaquely white. While waiting for the fish, roll the cooked, drained asparagus in melted butter or olive oil.

To serve, mound a spoonful of the braised veg on the plate top with a piece of fish and lay asparagus spears at the side along with a pool of yogurt mint sauce. Enough for 2–3.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon