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Picked for a sweet treat

May is National Strawberry Month

Many years ago (the exact number will remain a mystery), the very first food section I put together for the daily newspaper I was working for was all about strawberries.

It was just about this time of year as May is National Strawberry Month, and I wanted to highlight one of my favorite berries. While a lot has changed over those years, one thing hasn't: I still love strawberries.

Standing alone as the only fruit to wear its seeds on the outside, strawberries are loaded with nutrients.

According to Cami Wells with UNL Extension, a one-cup serving of strawberries (about 8 medium berries) contains only 50 calories. This size serving has more vitamin C than an orange and also has potassium, folate and fiber.

Potassium helps control blood pressure and fights strokes. Fiber helps control weight and relieves constipation. Vitamin C helps repair damage in the body and helps promote a healthy immune system. Folate helps fight birth defects and helps control the inflammatory process associated with heart disease.

Strawberries are picked when they are fully ripe and will not continue to ripen after harvest. Choose berries that are bright red, have a natural shine and a fresh looking green top. Keep them refrigerated and dry until just before using them. Wash them with a gentle cool spray of water, blot them dry and remove the green leafy cap.

A couple of years ago, I was having issues with strawberries going bad within a couple of days after bringing them home. Asking my Facebook friends for advice (they are a pretty smart bunch!), one suggested storing them in a glass jar with a paper towel in the bottom and sealed tight. I've been doing that ever since and it does help prolong the life of the berry.

Another suggestion was to wash them down with a vinegar bath. Mix one part white vinegar with three parts water, dunk the berries in the mixture, drain and pat them dry as thoroughly as possible. Only after they are completely dry do you put them in the jar with the paper towel.

To freeze berries, just put the cut side down on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet and place in the freezer uncovered for about 24 hours, then transfer them to a freezer bag or storage container, they can be stored frozen several months.

While my favorite way to eat strawberries is straight from the carton, they are also good in salads, as dessert toppings, in jams and jellies, and even on the grill.

Here are a few recipes to try. Enjoy!

Pies you can hold in your hand are perfect for a picnic, and this one has a special flavor. With the current love affair with all things pickled, we filled the pies with a pickled strawberry filling. The filling balances sweet and sour for an uncommonly delicious mini pie your party guests will love.

Quick Pickled Strawberry Hand Pies

1 cup red wine vinegar

3/4 cup water

1 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling

1/4 teaspoon salt

10 black peppercorns

5 sprigs fresh thyme, plus 1/2 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh thyme leaves, divided

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters (or eighths if berries very large)

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 egg

1 package (14 ounces) refrigerated pie crusts

In small saucepan, stir together vinegar, water, 1 cup sugar, salt and peppercorns. Add thyme sprigs. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until boiling; let boil 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour over cut strawberries, until fully submerged in liquid. Cover and let sit at room temperature 4 to 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line cookie pan with parchment paper. Strain strawberries from pickling liquid and discard peppercorns and thyme. Toss berries with cornstarch until evenly coated. In small bowl, whisk egg with 1 tablespoon water until smooth.

Unroll pie crusts and cut with 3-1/2-inch round cutter. Each crust yields 8 rounds.

To assemble pies, top half of rounds with about 3 tablespoons of berry mixture each. Brush edges of rounds with egg wash. Cut out a hole or pierce remaining rounds with fork. Place on top of berries. Using a fork, press edges of crusts together tightly to seal. Transfer to prepared cookie pan. Brush tops of pies with egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until pies are lightly golden and filling is bubbling. Cool slightly before serving.

Makes 8 hand pies.

Recipe from Wilton;

Try these colorful salads each using strawberries for a sweet taste.

Broccoli Strawberry Orzo Salad

3/4 cup orzo pasta (uncooked)

2 cups fresh broccoli (chopped)

2 cups fresh strawberries (diced)

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing:

1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh or bottled)

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar (or honey)

1 teaspoon poppy seeds

Cook orzo pasta according to directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

In a large bowl, combine orzo pasta, broccoli, strawberries, and sunflower seeds. Drizzle with lemon poppy seed vinaigrette and toss to combine.

Season with salt and pepper. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from: USDA's Mixing Bowl – What's Cooking Website

Strawberry Cucumber Salad

2 tablespoons nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt

4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon prepared mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1-1/2 teaspoons oil

3/4 teaspoon poppy seeds (optional)

2 cups strawberries, washed and sliced

2-1/2 cups cucumber, washed and sliced thinly into rounds

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, vinegar, honey, onion powder, mustard, salt, lemon juice, oil and poppy seeds (if using). Mix well.

Gently mix the dressing with the strawberries and cucumbers until evenly coated.

Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from: Oregon State Extension,

Traditional cheesecakes are made from a blend of cream cheese and eggs, and thus require cooking. This easier version uses gelatin instead of eggs to set the filling, so no cooking is needed. Only the tart shell is briefly baked.

The cream cheese also is cut with thick, rich, yet fat-free Greek-style yogurt. This variety of yogurt has had much of the water drained from it, giving it a sour cream-like consistency. Don't substitute regular yogurt.

The crust is made from 2 cups of vanilla wafer cookie crumbs. To make that amount of crumbs, you will need about 75 cookies, which is about a 12-ounce box minus 12 cookies.

Almost No-bake Strawberry Cheesecake Tart

Start to finish: 2-1/2 hours (30 minutes active)

For the tart shell:

2 cups vanilla wafer cookie crumbs

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

For the filling:

1/4-ounce packet unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup cold water

8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup fat-free Greek-style yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup strawberry jam

Fresh strawberries, to serve

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

To prepare the tart shell, in a medium bowl, mix together the cookie crumbs and butter. Transfer to a 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom. Gently press the mixture evenly across the bottom and up the sides.

Bake for about 6 to 8 minutes, or until set. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

To prepare the cream cheese filling, in a microwave-safe cup combine the gelatin and water. Set aside for 5 minutes, or until the gelatin is dissolved. Microwave the gelatin for 30 seconds or until it boils.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed to avoid lumps. Add the yogurt, gelatin and vanilla, then beat until smooth.

In a small bowl, use a fork to beat the strawberry jam until mostly smooth. Add the jam to the cream cheese mixture and use a rubber spatula to just barely fold it in, stirring only once or twice.

Transfer the mixture to the cooled tart shell and, if necessary, use a rubber spatula to smooth the top. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. Serve with fresh strawberries.

Makes 8 servings.

A fool is a classic British dessert made from a fruit compote and whipped cream. Traditionally, the two components are folded together, but they also can be layered in a parfait glass. In this revision from recipe developer Alison Ladman, she opted to grill the fruit rather than cook it on the stovetop.

Grilling the fruit keeps your kitchen cool and adds a wonderful smoky-caramel flavor to the fruit. This recipe features a mixture of strawberries and peaches, but pineapple and banana with a little toasted coconut on top would be a great tropical fool. Or use apples and pears with a little cinnamon added to the whipped cream.

Grilled Fool

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Vegetable oil, for oiling the grill

2 peaches, halved, pits removed

1 pound large strawberries, stemmed and halved

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat a grill to medium-high. Be sure that the grates are very clean. Using a pair of tongs, rub a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil over the grates.

Grill the peaches and strawberries until tender and starting to brown. Remove the strawberries after 5 minutes. Flip the peaches and grill for another 5 minutes. Allow the fruit to cool until it is easily handled. Pull the skins off the peaches. Cut the fruit up into 1/2-inch cubes, then combine in a large bowl. Stir in the honey and lemon juice. Allow to cool completely.

With an electric mixer, in a large bowl beat the cream, powdered sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.

To assemble the fools, arrange the fruit and whipped cream in layers in tall glasses. Start with the mixed fruit, then spoon whipped cream over it and repeat until the glass is filled. Alternatively, fold the cooled fruit into the whipped cream and spoon the mixture into glasses.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe from: Alison Ladman

Here's another quick recipe from Ladman.

Strawberry Croissant Skewers

Start to finish: 15 minutes

2 croissants, each cut into 12 cubes

6 strawberries, halved

4 ounces edam or other semi-soft cheese, cut into 12 pieces


Ground black pepper

On small skewers, thread a piece of croissant, followed by a strawberry half, a piece of cheese, then a second piece of croissant. Drizzle lightly with honey and sprinkle with black pepper.

Makes 12 pieces.

Recipe from: Alison Ladman


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