Sunday, 1 January 2012

Suiting Up Strawberries for the New Year

Well food fans, welcome to 2012! As was the case with other food bloggers (such as this one which I just saw tonight while watching a very close Iron Chef America battle), yesterday was a time for me to say farewell to a food-filled 2011 and to prep in ushering a year full of endless possibilities. From one meal to a post to a new year, food presentation has become a focal point for not only the table but for blogs, as well, and it is with this in mind that I tack onto my growing list of 2012 resolutions a conscious lens on artistic creativity when it comes to both plating and photographing the food that I prep. Perhaps I'm stretching this a bit for my first post of the year (I'm claiming baby steps here), but I find it fitting in retrospect that the first dish I prepped in 2012 was suited up for the occasion: tuxedo strawberries.

If ever you're looking for a decadent gift to give for an anniversary or celebration (such as ringing in the new year), chocolate covered strawberries are a pretty good way to go. However, depending on the brand or to the extent they've been decked out with additional coats, these can rack up quite the bill. So, why not try your hand at making them yourself? Give yourself an hour or so and you can be rest assured that the thought of making these yourself is equitable to the pride in knowing you saved quite a bit of money in the process. To dress up your strawberries, all you basically need are coating ingredients (in my case, vanilla-flavoured candy melts and more leftover chocolate from my sister's birthday). Start off by melting the white chips (about 6 oz for the three dozen strawberries I was dressing up). in the microwave in 15 second intervals, until fully melted (about 2 min 45 sec). Note: Similar to sugar, heat helps to release the juices from the strawberries. To prevent this from happening, make sure your dipping liquids are cool (borderline warm) while still being smooth enough to work with. [Not that I referenced this post, but do check this one out if you find it easier to follow.] As the chips are melting, wash and dry off your strawberries.

Once your "shirt layer" is cool enough to work with, dip your strawberries in the candy coating (or white chocolate or whatever else you decide to use). [When coating your strawberries, do be sure to hold onto the leafy tops so they end up clean in the end.] As you can see in the photo above, you only need to cover half (or little less than half) the strawberry. This will become the shirt portion of the suit. Get these onto a cooling rack to harden and allow any excess to drip. Also noticeable in the above photo is the fact these shirts are rather uneven; the candy melts happen to melt into a thicker coating, so you don't get as smooth a finish as you could get using actual chocolate, etc. But hey, it'll all look good in the end-- I promise! If you'd like to dress up the eventual suit even more (perhaps suit buttons or a little boutonniere), save the remaining white chocolate to pipe later.

As the shirt layers are hardening (feel free to put these in the fridge or cold room to speed up the process, if need be), melt your chocolate suit exterior (about 6-7 oz). When cool enough to work with (and only after the shirts have hardened), dip the other half of each strawberry in the chocolate and then turn each shirt-coated side at an angle to create the V-shape of the suit. Still holding the leafy top, gently shake the strawberry to allow any excess chocolate to drip. Transfer this onto a pre-lined (with tin foil) tray, chocolate side down, to cool.

When finished with the coating chocolate, transfer the remaining melted chocolate into a piping bag of some kind. (My favourite, on-the-spot version is made by using a plastic baggy and taking a small snip off one of the corners.) Carefully add two chocolate buttons (literally a tiny drop of chocolate) and fashion a bow tie by making an X and vertically connecting the side points. Allow everything to cool and harden before transferring them onto a serving tray.

A side note: When you are ready to transfer them, take note of the hardened flat surface that was achieved when allowing the chocolate exterior to cool. This (as obvious as it looks) helps the strawberries to remain stationary when it comes to plating. Additionally: Just when I thought I was starting to be creative with my food dish titles, it turns out others beat me to it. Oh well, I suppose the way my chocolate melted and resolidified transformed my strawberries' wardrobe into a pinstriped series. If you really want this look, consider yourself lucky because it's definitely easier to achieve-- do everything this post suggests you not to do (i.e., over-agitate the chocolate during the tempering process or cool the strawberries too quickly in the freezer). Otherwise, stir the chocolate gently as you melt it and allow the chocolate to harden in low-humidity, mid-60's room temperature conditions, for a cleaner, glossier look.

Now that the strawberries had taken on a new form, it was time to transport them to the party and dessert table (one of two) at my godparents' home where family and friends gathered together in true Filipino food fashion to celebrate the start of the new year.

As for some of the other dishes added to the potluck, I'll let you take a look for yourself along with the rest of the food photos in this album. Especially for the environmentally conscious ones reading this post, take note at the end of the album my new grocery bag holder made by my godmother's mom.

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