I’m trying to get my groove back in the kitchen.  Once you’ve lived in one place for a few years, you have your own routine however mundane it is.  You know where you like to buy your tomatoes from, where the best bread is, and that Reinick Farms has the most delicious eggs.  Now that I’m in a big city, I have a lot more to choose from.  Despite this advantage, I’m stumped as to where to get my groceries, which farmers’ markets are the best…I’m giving them all a trial run.  I will soon learn which places fit me.

It’s funny how these things enter some peoples’ minds.  I’m picky about these matters, going into X supermarket isn’t going to cut it for me.  It does make things a little more difficult, but way more fun.  Who doesn’t like to explore a city looking around for the best food it has to offer?  So I’m enjoying myself right now-getting a feel for the city until I find a job.

I picked up strawberries at a farmers’ market.  A fresh strawberry is a thing of beauty.  They bring back many childhood memories for me.  I remember sitting in our garden where wild strawberries would grow, basking in the sun and feasting away on those tiny gems.  Finding local strawberries always excites me, the taste is completely different and on top of the great taste, the little green stems are ever so cute.

I decided to make strawberry crumble bars inspired by a grocery store near my parents’ house in Rhode Island.  Layered bars are a favorite of mine- the different layers, textures, and crunch are quite appealing to me.  These bars are so very delicious, especially with that heavenly dollop of melting whipped cream on top.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Crumble Bars

Makes 9 large bars

Ingredients

for the crust: (adapted from Ina Garten’s lemon bar crust)

1 cup flour

1/4 cup  cold unsalted butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, scraped

pinch of salt

for the strawberries:

1 1/2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered

sugar, to taste (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup crème fraîche

1/2 vanilla bean, scraped

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

for the crumble topping:

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup oats (not instant)

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

4 tablespoons butter

pinch of salt

Method

Prepare the crust by combining the brown sugar and flour in an electric mixer on low-speed for a minute.  You should use the paddle attachment.  This can also be done in a bowl if the don’t have an electric mixer.  Add in the seeds from the scraped vanilla bean and then the flour and mix until just combined.  Press the dough into an 8″ by 8″ baking dish and chill for at least one hour.  After it has chilled, bake it in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until it just starts to turn light brown.

While the crust is chilling, prepare the strawberries by heating them in a saucepan over medium heat with the sugar and remaining vanilla bean seeds.  Add in the vanilla extract and allow the strawberries to wilt slightly.  Cook for 5-7 minutes.  Let the strawberries to cool and once cool mix in the crème fraîche.  Set aside in refrigerator until assembly.

Before the final assembly; mix the flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, and walnuts together.  Using your fingers knead in the butter until the mixture is a crumbly texture.  Set aside.

Before baking the crumble bars preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Next, Take the prebaked crust and layer the strawberries on top, followed by the crumble topping.  Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until the crust turns golden.  Allow the bars to cool for 15 minutes.  Serve warm with whipped cream.  They’re also good at room temperature or chilled.

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