For me, going to the farmers' market is what I imagine it is like for an animal lover to visit a kennel -- immediately, I feel the need to adopt everything I see, desperate to give it a good home where it will be loved and appreciated (and, in the case of fresh food, put to good, well-prepared use).
Knowing that we would be out of the house and over on 2nd Ave in renovation nation, as I've come to call it, and not making a mess in our home kitchen nearly as much as normal, I tried to give myself a monetary limit for last weekend's market trip (no more than twenty bucks today kiddo). Naturally, my plan foiled. As soon as I came into contact with the overflowing tables of deep purple eggplants, pint baskets filled with curling garlic scapes, and neat piles of rhubarb and swiss chard, I pretty much blacked out and the next thing I knew I was passing over a crisp fifty and silently rationalizing that I had to -- HAD to -- buy one of everything in sight. Seriously, I blame the heirloom tomatoes...they get me every time.
Needless to say, this is not the first time something like this has happened. Most weeks, the chef and I end up with more food than we can consume and an absolute refusal to allow any of that beautiful produce to end up at the bottom of a compost heap (let's just say I've become pretty decent at pickling and preserving over the years).
This, of course, is the reason I recently found myself staring at a colander filled with a whole heck of a lot (very technical measurement terminology) of summer berries -- strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries -- that were in serious need of some love to save them from their composting fate.
Do you ever buy bags of dried berries? If you do, then you already know that this is a crazy expensive practice. However, I do purchase them from time to time -- dried berries are a nice pantry staple to have on hand when making a fresh batch of granola, or when baking breads, or when settling in for an afternoon bowl of yogurt and honey. As it turns out, they're also kind of the perfect snack to toss in a plastic baggie and shove in my purse to serve as an on the road snack for when I am exhausted from moving boxes and sanding new countertops (which has been pretty frequently lately).
Making oven-dried berries at home is foolishly easy (drop berries onto a baking sheet, pop 'em in the oven, and that's about it). Plus, there's something really fun about watching a big bowl full of berries magically transform into these tart, crinkly, chewy little snacks (they're like the Shrinky Dinks of the produce aisle). While you could certainly oven-dry berries and call it a day (keep them in an airtight container and they're good to go for about 2-3 weeks), I decided to go the extra, sugary mile and coat a batch in a thin layer of dark chocolate. In a normal household, the chocolate-covered berries will also last in an airtight container for about 2-3 weeks; however, when kept in the bottom of my purse, they last just short of a full day.
Dark Chocolate Oven-Dried Berries
- 2 cups fresh or frozen berries
- 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 175 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the berries in a single layer. Bake for about 3 hours, or until any juices have evaporated and the berries are shriveled
(but not burned), tossing the berries approximately every half hour.
Add the chocolate chips to a small saucepan and cook on very low heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Drop the dried berries into the still warm chocolate, gently tossing the berries with a spoon to ensure that all sides become coated. Remove the chocolate covered berries using a spider-skimmer and arrange on a drying rack that is set overtop a baking sheet (the chocolate will drip). Allow the chocolate to set (about 1/2 hour) before transferring to an airtight container.