This past December a rare event occurred at our house. We had a Saturday night free! No catering job. No family visiting. No last minute shopping to be done. A whole Saturday free! So we invited our dear friends, Joe and Mary Ellen, over for dinner and some much-needed catching up.
It was late in December and I had already had my fill of the heavy desserts that go with the season. I needed something different - something light and pretty. I was thinking berries, but those are a little hard to come by in the dead of winter. I was surfing the Internet and stumbled across a recipe on Pinterest for a mixed-berry compote using frozen berries. I was a little hesitant, but since the guests were friends and not clients, I decided to give it a try. I served the compote over vanilla Greek yogurt - my new obsession. It was a great hit and I didn't feel guilty about having dessert.
I have made the recipe several times since that night. It's great over ice cream and even French toast. A spoonful dresses up a slice of pound cake beautifully. I've used store brand mixed berries from Kroger and Walmart. The berries from Walmart have a wider variety and better texture, but the Mixed Berry Smoothie blend from Kroger is naturally sweeter. The recipe is sweetened with honey and a little bit of sugar and the Kroger brand berries don't require any extra sweeteners.
Frozen berries always bring to mind the boxed frozen strawberries laden in heavy syrup, so I shied away from them. Today, frozen fruit is picked at its peak and flash frozen within hours of leaving the field. A study in 2013 indicated that frozen blueberries are actually better for you than the fresh ones. The frozen berries have more of the disease-fighting antioxidants. Once the berries leave the vine, they, in essence, begin to die or breakdown and lose some of their nutrients. Flash freezing stops the breakdown process and seals the nutrients in the berry.
I was surprised to find out several years ago that many fruits are picked green and then stored in a refrigerator until there is a demand for them. The fruit is then transferred to a special room and "gassed" with ethylene to complete their ripening process. Ethylene is naturally emitted by certain fruits such as tomatoes and bananas. This ripening process is what makes it possible to enjoy fruits when they're out of season. The process is completely safe, but, as with many things that are used to circumvent Mother Nature's process, the quality and health benefits are compromised.
I now keep frozen berries in the freezer not only for making the compote but also for snacking. I like to eat them frozen, but even when thawed they hold their shape remarkably well. They do bleed color and will stain your hands and countertop, so be sure to get them into the bowl quickly!
I'm now obsessed with frozen fruit recipes - at least until I can get the real thing. Here are a few of my favorites. Give them a try!
MIXED BERRY COMPOTE
(adapted from www.thecafesucrefarine.com)
2 cups orange juice
4 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons orange liquor such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier*
Â½ cup honey
Â¼ cup sugar
6 cups frozen mixed berries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon thyme leaves
Zest of 1 navel orange
Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
Combine cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of the orange juice in a small bowl. Set aside. Combine remaining orange juice, Grand Marnier, honey and sugar in a medium-size sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a constant simmer and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add frozen berries and return to a boil. Cook for 1 minute. Slowly add cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring continuously until compote is thick and glossy 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and add fresh thyme, orange zest and a pinch of sea salt. Stir to combine. Taste and add a bit more honey, if needed. Serve warm or cold. Keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Also freezes very well. *Can be made without liquor - just replace with more orange juice.
MIXED BERRY FROZEN SANGRIA
1 750 ml bottle of your favorite red wine
1 Â½ cups frozen mixed berries
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup sugar (or more to suit your taste)
6-8 cups of ice
Pour red wine into a large pitcher and add frozen berries along with orange juice and sugar. Stir well. Add 3-4 cups of ice to the blender and pour wine mixture to fill line and blend on medium-high for 30 seconds. Pour frozen sangria into serving pitcher and repeat with remaining wine mixture.
MIXED BERRY FRUIT COBBLER
This is the best basic recipe for cobbler. It can be used with fresh fruit, canned fruit or frozen fruit and it always turns out perfect!
Â¼ cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Â¾ cup white sugar
Â¾ cup whole milk
2 cups frozen berries, rinsed and drained well
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt butter in a 9 x 9 inch baking dish. Blend flour, baking powder and sugar together in a medium size bowl. Stir in milk. Pour batter in baking dish over the butter. Sprinkle fruit on top of the batter, do not stir. Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown.