Strawberries are my go-to example for why eating local is where it's at. Have you ever tried a locally grown strawberry? If you're lucky, maybe you grew up eating berries from your grandmother's back garden, but if you're like most of us, you thought a strawberry came in a plastic clamshell and was vaguely musty and a little wrinkled. And in that case the first bite of a locally grown berry--one that isn't soaked in pesticides or bloated to the size of a tomato--was probably an intensely pleasurable experience. The berries that you get at a farmer's market looked impossibly red to you and the flavor! How is it possible to have that much flavor in one small fruit?
I love to have my friends taste fresh, local, organic berries against their conventional, grocery store cousins--it's an open and shut case, and impossible to ignore the difference. As much as I could shout from the rooftops about the health, community and ecological benefits of choosing to buy your groceries from a local farmer, the truth is, I think the best reason may just be because the food is way, way more delicious.
These spectacular fruits are only available for a few weeks each year, but for me that only highlights their value. I'm getting only the best, and when their short season is done, there will be another to enjoy in its turn. While it's rare that I have any berries left to actually cook with (I'm popping them in my mouth all the way home from the market), I do occasionally like to mix it up and use them in a recipe. This vinaigrette, which comes out a very retro shade of pink, was devised as a way to spread out the goodness of a handful of berries to an entire bowl of salad. I like to serve it over massaged kale, dotted with goat cheese, fresh mint and toasted almonds.
Straw berry Vinaigrette
Whiz all the ingredients together in a blender or food processor until completely smooth and serve (see suggestion in the headnotes for one idea).
I'm a fan of Michael Ruhlman, who authored the book Ratio. One day, while stalking his Instagram feed, I came across a picture of a hanger steak in a dish of water. The caption read: "Last-minute decision to grill hanger steak tonight. Frozen. And 5% brine. Best way to quick thaw something." The idea was brilliant. As someone who shops at the farmer's market for my meat most of the time, some of it eventually ends up frozen. It's such a bummer to get home after a long day of work only to realize you forgot to take the chicken or the pork chops out of the freezer. But by unwrapping the protein and adding it to a brine solution, I could quickly thaw, add flavor and tenderize my protein at the same time.
Brine for Meat
To make a 5% brine solution, you need about 1/3 c. of kosher salt for 2 quarts of cool water. If you have a kitchen scale (and I recommend that you get one, if you don't--it will change your life!), you can be more precise. Whisk together the salt and water until dissolved, and the brine is ready to use. Soak your protein in the brine until it's fully thawed (this time will vary depending on the size and type of meat used), then remove and allow to drain, patting the protein dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.
If you have more time on your hands, you may wish to add some aromatics to your brine. I like to do this by steeping a few dried chillies, snipped into pieces, as well as bay leaves, rosemary, peppercorn or mustard seeds in boiling water. Stir in the salt at any point, and refrigerate or let stand until the water is room temperature before using (otherwise you run the risk of poaching your protein).