I remember my first visit to a you-pick strawberry field when you could still find such things in Kendall, shortly after I’d been transplanted from the cold North to the Sunshine State. There I was in mid February, warm in short sleeves, the intoxicating fragrance of sun-warmed strawberries wafting about, the sweet juice staining my fingers, and I knew I’d found a little bit of heaven.
Now is absolutely the peak time to enjoy Florida berries. Look for the reddest and most fragrant, and don’t wash or take the caps off until just before serving. The simple salad recipe here is a wonderful juxtaposition of sweet berries, nippy greens and pungent gorgonzola.
Another plus for strawberries is that they are just about a guilt-free indulgence: Eight strawberries have more Vitamin C than an orange, or about 140 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance, plus contain potassium, magnesium, iron, B-6 and calcium. There’s fiber, virtually no fat, no cholesterol, and they are rich in antioxidants that can improve health.
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Since it’s national cherry month, it seems appropriate to note that dried sour cherries seem to be chopping away at cranberry’s long reign as trendiest in the raisin-like ingredient role. The Cherry Marketing Institute — a trade group that of course has its own bias — says there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of restaurant items in the U.S. featuring sour cherries over the past four years. I’ve recently noticed dried cherries in a lot of new products: Weight Watchers Oat Clusters with cherries debuted last month. Plus there are lots of snacks that include dried cherries, such as Sunsweet’s Amaz!n Berry blend, chocolate bars by Chocolove, trail mix by Second Nature and even sprinkles for topping ice cream or salads by Country Ovens. You can find the dried cherries in their natural state or coated in dark chocolate or yogurt as well.
The cherries are the same ones used in a tart cherry pie, and complement sweet and savory flavors. I’ve added them to recipes that I once made with raisins or cranberries and loved the tart profile with brussels sprouts, couscous tagine and a batch of oatmeal cookies. In the oatmeal recipe here the cherries take a bland porridge to a whole new level. I made it the night before and simply heated it in the microwave for an on-the-go breakfast.
Besides adding that tart bite to foods, the cherries are a good source of fiber, nutrients, antioxidants and complex carbohydrates, like any dried fruit. Dried cherries also are the focus of research studying how the anthocyanins that give the fruit its deep color may help heart health. Other studies show they may aid sleep, fight jet lag and help athletes recover faster from strenuous exercise.
Reader question: Cuban pork
Q. I read your column in the Herald and would like you to suggest a recipe for making Cuban pork in a slow cooker.
A. Cuban style roast pork is traditionally made by long marinating and slow roasting to produce crisp fatty skin and melt-in-your-mouth meat that is wonderfully flavored with sour orange, garlic, cumin and lots of onion. Before I get lots of scolding mail I want to say this is NOT traditional lechon asado. You can’t get the crisp skin in a slow cooker, or the smoky goodness from a whole pig roasting over a wood fire. But you can mimic much that makes lechon asado so addicting.
For the meat, I would buy a pork shoulder roast, often on sale. In South Florida you can get it with the skin, if you like. You need a fattier cut to produce juicy meat and can always trim excess fat after cooking. You’ll need sour oranges (or mix orange juice 2 to 1 with lime juice), fresh garlic, yellow onions, and seasonings — usually ground cumin, sometimes oregano and/or bay leaves and peppercorns.
No time for prep? The easy answer is to buy bottled mojo — the best ones, to my taste, list sour orange juice as the first ingredient. Or use a small bottle of mojo and one of bottled sour orange juice. The mojo is already seasoned, so all you need to do is add it to the meat and onions.
If you don’t have a slow cooker, this recipe will work in a Dutch oven. Cover till the last hour and bake at least 6 hours at 325 degrees. You want the pork to reach about 190 on a meat thermometer to be ultra soft.
Reader Question: Lava Cakes
Q. I’ve lost your recipe for making lava cakes — lent it to a friend for a romantic dinner she was planning and she misplaced it. Can you help?
A. Hope the friend found the romance. Always happy to reprise a favorite. We first published the recipe in 2007, after a reader tasted it on a cruise and wanted to be able to make it at home.
Entries are now available for Carnaval Miami’s annual cooking contest, sponsored by the Kiwanis of Little Havana and Winn-Dixie stores, at carnavalmiami.com/ There’s a $1,000 grand prize as well as cash prizes in the three categories: general public, vocational and middle/high school. Entries must be submitted by Feb. 23, and have to include two items from an eclectic list of ingredients that includes bacon and ice cream.
Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com.
Crock-Pot Cuban Roast Pork
Bone-in pork shoulder or picnic roast, about 5 pounds
12 ounces sour orange juice (you’ll need 3 fresh oranges, or use bottled)
1 whole head of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground bay leaves
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 yellow onions, sliced in rings 1/4-inch thick
Place the juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, bay, peppercorns and salt in a food processor and puree (if you are a traditionalist, mash the garlic in a mojete with the spices, then whisk into the juice).
Place the pork in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, fat side up. Pour the mojo on top, then strew with the onion slices. Add water so the liquid in the pot is at least an inch deep. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. To serve, remove pork from pot, remove excess fat, debone and slice, chunk or shred the meat before returning to the cooking juices to warm. Serve with the onions, black beans and white rice. Makes 8 servings.
Source: Adapted by Linda Cicero.
Cherry Oatmeal Bake
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
1/2 cup quick oats, uncooked
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups skim milk
1/4 cup egg substitute
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Combine cherries, oats, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in milk, egg substitute and almond extract. Spray four 10-ounce custard cups with nonstick cooking spray. Divide mixture evenly between cups.
Place filled cups on baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 30 to 40 minutes, or until centers are still slightly soft. Serve warm. Makes 4 servings.
Chocolate Lava Cakes
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter plus more for greasing
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar plus more for sprinkling
6 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
3 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Generously butter six 1/2-cup ramekins or custard cups. Line the bottom with circles of l paper cut to fit. Sprinkle a little sugar in each to dust the sides. Place on a cookie sheet. Chop the stick of butter, and melt it with the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water or in microwave. Set aside to cool.
Beat the egg yolks and the 1/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer for 5 minutes, until thick and pale. Beat in the vanilla, then whisk in the flour. Fold in the melted, cooled chocolate.
In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and whip on high speed until whites hold soft peaks. Add the tablespoon of sugar and whip until they hold stiff peaks.
Gently fold egg whites into chocolate mixture. It is crucial not to over-mix.
Spoon batter into the prepared ramekins, leaving about inch at the top. If serving immediately, bake on center rack in preheated 400-degree oven for 10 minutes, or until the outside edges of the cakes are set and small cracks appear on the top, but the center still appears shaky.
Filled ramekins also may be refrigerated, topped with plastic wrap, until time to bake and serve. If refrigerated, add 3 to 5 minutes to baking time, watching carefully.
Let baked cakes cool about 2 minutes after removing from oven. Loosen edges by running a thin knife between the ramekin and the cake. Invert each ramekin onto a serving plate. Serve immediately, with whipped cream or ice cream if desired. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 375 calories (60 percent from fat), 26.3 g fat (15.5 g saturated, 7.7 g monounsaturated), 146.2 mg cholesterol, 5 g protein, 34.3 g carbohydrates, 1.8 g fiber, 40.4 mg sodium.
Source: Cook’s Corner archives.
Florida Strawberry and Gorgonzola Salad
6 cups of fresh spinach
1 cup of fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 apple, sliced thin
4 tablespoons vinaigrette
Toss ingredients to combine. Makes 4 servings.
Source: Florida Strawberry Growers Association