Strawberries with Melted Chocolate / Salinas Valley Farmland Pix

Quick, what if you don’t know what to make for dessert and you are feeling ultra-lazy? Melt some dark chocolate in a metal bowl floating in simmering water, wash and hull some strawberries and call it a day! That’s the recipe. I served this to some friends – spooning the chocolate over strawberries. Pretty effortless.

Strawberries with Melted Chocolate

And where do strawberries grow? you may be wondering. Why, many grow in the Salinas Valley. Coastal California dominates domestic and international strawberry production with Watsonville/Salinas crops representing nearly half of California’s total strawberry acreage.

Conventional strawberry production is associated with the potential use of methyl iodide. Monterey County, which includes the Salinas Valley, is primarily agricultural and very poor. I was surprised to learn that it is supporting a potential ban on methyl iodide since strawberries enjoy the status of being a billion dollar crop.

This chemical is the subject of enormous controversy  complete with its own government scandal at the moment. The conflict may very well subside: the Strawberry Commission and the state are studying how to grow strawberries more safely without methyl iodide. This could be good news since strawberries have the potential to be cancer-preventing on one hand but would be causing cancer on the other hand if methyl iodide is used to grow them.

Anyways, here are some pix from my recent visit to America’s Salad Bowl. Is it fair that it is so darn fertile as well as stunningly gorgeous?!!? Being there is like stepping into a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.

Organic Strawberry Plant Closeup

Rows of Organic Strawberry Plants

Ye Olde Barn

Salinas Valley Farmland, against Hills with Clouds

Red Wine Pears

steaming pears

steaming pears

red wine pears simmering

red wine pears simmering

 red wine pears

red wine pears

Once upon a time, in early fall, pears were on sale for 29 cents a pound. TWENTY-NINE CENTS, you heard me. What to do? Oh yes, at first, you buy pounds of pears. And it is pear time, all the time. Pears with cheese. Pears by themselves. And then the pears threaten to go bad! How can I save these pears, so that their goodness can be captured? Why, poach them in red wine.

It’s that easy.

Ingredients:

  1. 6 very ripe Bartlett pears;
  2. one bottle of red wine; (I use the infamous Trader Joe’s 2 buck chuck)
  3. splash of vanilla;
  4. 1/4 cup of honey;
  5. 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon;
  6. 2 sprigs of thyme (somewhat optional – I’ve done fine without the thyme);
  7. 2 quart sauce pot.

Steps:

  1. Pour the red wine into pot and begin low simmer.
  2. Peel the pears. Slice in half if you like, or leave whole.
  3. Add ground cinnamon, honey/sugar, thyme and vanilla to the pot.
  4. Melt everything together.
  5. Add pears.
  6. Allow pears to simmer until just tender – this means, start checking on it no later than like 10 minutes after you’ve added the pears. Depending upon ripeness, these pears might be ready quite soon.
  7. Remove!!!
  8. Let sauce continue to simmer until it is reduced to half of its original size. This is not a hard-and-fast rule – the idea is to intensify the flavors.

They are simply wonderful as-is. Even better with ice cream/frozen yogurt / nondairy frozen treat. Served that way, any international spy of superior caliber will start weeping like a child with joy. I saw it with my own eyes!

Chocolate Bark with Almonds (makes you look like a genius)

Bitterweet Chocolate Almond Bark

I made something like last winter to give away for the holidays but thought I’d tweak it into something less sweet, and more ingredient-centric. Some people really really LOVE it. But it’s not going to be your cup of tea if you like stuff really sweet. Because it’s not. Rather, it’s just sweet. (you can use “regular” chocolate if you want it sweeter).  And that is what drives the people crazy. Here goes! (oh and a Warning – many of the recipes on this blog are designed with an eye towards frugality – but this is not one of them).

Ingredients:

1 lb dark chocolate; (I used the 72% from Trader Joe’s, it’s $5.00 for 17 oz);
3/4 lb toasted unsalted almonds; ($3.00 of a $4.00 bag from Trader Joe’s);
1/2 cup of dried sweetened cranberries; (about 1/2 of a $$4.00 bag from Trader Joe’s);
1 cup of chopped dried unsweetened apricots; (about 1/2 bag from Trader Joe’s)*

Tools:

sauce pot;
very clean stainless steel bowl;
fork;
parchment paper;
water.

Fill a broad sauce pot (10″ radius or greater) until the water level is a few inches from the top. Simmer. Do NOT boil. Place the stainless steel bowl in the pot and make sure that the water makes good contact with the bowl. The bowl should float.  Break the chocolate into chunks, then drop them into the stainless steel bowl.

Tear off enough parchment paper to cover a cookie sheet.  Let the chocolate melt. Mix the almonds and dried fruits. Pour everything onto the paper. Allow to cool for a few hours and eventually, cover it with parchment paper. Move chocolate bark from the cookie sheet to a cutting board. Cut. ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ALTERNATE ENDING: for those of you who enjoy white chocolate, use that! Might want to use salted almonds to balance out the sweetness usually associated with white chocolate.

*I have also purchased the Mariani dried apricots from Costco, for about $3.50 for 2 lbs…they are VERY sweet and wonderful for this bark too!