Springtime Baked Brie Tartlets

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Blogging is so addicting fun for me, that posts are scheduled months ahead. But as a result, when I come across something new that I must make ASAP, posts get pushed back, which is exactly what happened to these baked brie tartlets.

I wanted to make them last Christmas, but now here it is April. Instead of postponing them until the following Christmas, I decided to make a springtime version. I mean, why not? Warm cheese isn’t only for winter holidays. And instead of cranberry chutney or some similar festive variety, I’m using strawberry onion chutney.

If you’re not familiar with cooked fruit chutneys, they are different from compotes in that there are savory components. My favorites to use are combinations of onion, garlic, and ginger. The resulting flavor profile includes a bit of zing, as well as sweetness.

Recently on Instagram, I saw a cheese board from Murray’s Cheese in New York City, and I asked about a certain beautiful, orange-rinded cheese. Turns out it’s called Brebisrousse D’Argental, a sheep milk cheese from Lyon, France.

I thought the orange rind and white paste would be beautiful paired with the strawberry chutney.

Just for the ease of preparing these tartlets, I purchased pre-baked phyllo cups. You just fill and serve, and they’re basically a one-bite size.


Springtime Baked Brie Tartlets

1 package (15) phyllo tartlets
Cheese of choice that melts easily, like Brie, Fontina, or Raclette
Strawberry chutney, or choice of zingy condiment
Good balsamic vinegar

Place the tartlets on a microwave-safe serving dish. Fill them about halfway with the cheese you’re using. Gently warm the cheese, using a low-strength microwave setting.

Add some of the chutney, and then top with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

And you’re done.

I know I called these baked brie tartlets, but baking isn’t necessary, since all you have to do is warm the cheese. I also didn’t actually use Brie…

Now I get to have friends over and finish up this amazing cheese that I just discovered! Yes, it melts well, but it’s also good as-is!

Get creative with this kind of tartlet. You can choose your cheese, as I did, and also choose your condiment. There are so many available for purchase these days – from apricot to tomato chutneys.

Strawberry Onion Chutney

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Rarely do I come out of “retirement” to cater. If I do it’s only for good friends, but still these gigs are few and far between. I’m just not in the catering groove any longer.

A few years ago, however, I said yes to a friend who needed help with her staff party. I don’t remember the menu in its entirety, except that I made a sous vide pork loin.

Because it was springtime, I created a chutney using fresh strawberries to go with the pork.

Following is the sweet-spicy-tart condiment recipe that I’m so happy I wrote down. I must say it was superb and loved by all!

Strawberry Onion Chutney
printable recipe below

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup ruby port
1/4 cup olive oil
4 white onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 1″ piece ginger, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 pound hulled strawberries, chopped into small pieces
Allspice, to taste

In a small bowl, soak raisins in the port. Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Add the onions and begin the sautéing process. It will take at least 30 minutes. A little browning is fine, but mostly I just wanted them nice and soft and cooked through.

Add the raisins and the port, along with the garlic and ginger, and cook the mixture for about 5 minutes.

Add the vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and cayenne, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Then stir in the strawberries and continue cooking the chutney, stirring occasionally, until the strawberry pieces have cooked, but still hold their shapes.


If I might say so, this chutney is spectacular. When I made it the second time, I used dark raisins, and served it with roasted chicken, which was equally delicious as previously with the pork loin.

And with cheese? It’s fabulous!!!

 

 

Cheese Blintzes

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With every season change, I go through recipes that I have saved since I was very young. It started when I would cut up recipes from McCall’s magazine and glue them on large index cards for my mother. Then I started doing it for myself.
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As I just turned 60 years old, you can only guess at how old many of these recipes are!

Recently I came across this old McCall’s recipe for blintzes. It gave me the idea to make blintzes for when I have overnight company soon.
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Blintzes can be made the day before and re-heated gently the next morning. Plus, the little blintz packages are so pretty – much prettier than some breakfast casserole.

You need three parts to make blintzes. You need the crêpes, filling and sauce.

Cheese Blintzes with Strawberry Coulis

Sauce:
12 ounces fresh strawberries
1/3 cup sugar or to taste
2 tablespoons orange liqueur or orange juice

Filling:
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
Few drops of orange oil or 1 teaspoon orange zest, optional
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Melted butter, optional
Cinnamon sugar, optional

Crêpes; make a quadruple recipe.

To make the sauce, place the three ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Continue to cook until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 30 minutes.

Let cool slightly, then blend with an immersion blender. Cover and refrigerate if not using right away.
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To make the filling, place the cottage cheese in a food processor jar and process until smooth.

Scrape down the sides, then add the remaining ingredients and process until all combined.

Taste the filling. Personally, I prefer the sauce sweeter than the filling; you don’t want a sweet filling and a sweet sauce because this is not dessert. Also, the cinnamon should be fairly strong because it pairs so nicely with the fruit. If you can’t taste it, add some more. There are different grades and potencies of cinnamon.

Cover and refrigerate the filling if you’re not using it right away.

When you are ready to prepare the blintzes, have the crêpes at your work station either just cooked and still slightly warm, or at room temperature, if you made them the day before. If they are too chilled they will break instead of fold. Also have the filling on your work station.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly butter two baking pans to hold the blintzes in one layer.

Place about one heaping tablespoon of filling in the middle of a crêpe.

First fold over the front of the crêpe over the filling, then the left and right sides over the filling, then roll the whole thing over the remaining flap.

Gently pick up the blintz and place in the pan with the folded sides down. Continue with the remaining crêpes and filling.
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If you like, brush the tops of the crêpes with melted butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes, or just until golden. They will be puffy, but unfortunately they will unpuff within minutes. That’s ok – they’re still really good.
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Serve with the warm or room temperature strawberry coulis.

If you like, serve with a few fresh berries.

note: Some blintzes are sautéed in butter in a pan instead of baked. Those are also fabulous!
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Strawberry Tiramisu

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Many years ago, my girlfriend Gabriella made a strawberry tiramisu, and I’ve never forgotten it. It was made in the same manner as a traditional tiramisu, but without the coffee element. Instead, it had layers of beautiful spring strawberries.

So I wanted to finally make this twist of the popular Italian dessert using traditional ingredients like Savoirdi biscuits and marscapone, plus strawberries. However, I pondered upon what liquid to use in which to dip the biscuits.

A million years ago, approximately, my husband and I went to a Food and Wine Tasting in Aspen, Colorado. It was the same week that O. J. Simpson “allegedly” killed two people. I remember the actual day that he was followed along highway 101 in the white Bronco because it was my younger daughter’s birthday – June 12th.

In any case, the festival itself was a bit crazy. I think they sold too many tickets! Being short, I was always being elbowed by tall men who’d obviously never tasted wine or food before. Even if I was in front of a vendor table, people were reaching past me, around me, and over me. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m not much of a crowd lover, so it was a bit stressful and painful for me. The good parts were having Stephen Pyles sign my cookbook, even though I was accused of stealing it (I had already purchased the cookbook in Denver before heading to Aspen), seeing a demonstration with Patricia Wells, and then attending a demonstration with Julia Child. Even my husband really appreciated that.

So why am I bringing this all up? There was a new winery at the festival – Quady Winery. The representatives were serving small scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with a drizzle of Essencia, made from orange muscat grapes. It was fabulous. I personally think there’s a proper place for sweet and dessert wines, and these have since become award-winning wines.


There’s Electra as well, which is made from a black muscat grape. If you ever see them, give one a try. I actually have used both in making sangria, to replace the brandy element that’s too strong for me.

So back to the tiramisu. I thought an orange element, from the Essencia and from oranges themselves, along with the strawberries would create a perfectly delicious spring dessert! Here’s what I did.


Strawberry Tiramisu

16 ounces Marscapone, at room temperature
16 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar
3 oranges, juice and zest used
Strawberries, picked over, rinsed and dried
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
Essencia
1 – 7 ounce box Savoirdi biscuits (I only used half)
Pearl sugar, optional

Begin by placing the marcapone and yogurt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Add the powdered sugar.


Add the zest of three oranges, and beat again until well distributed.

Set aside the marscapone mixture, and begin with the berries. I had hoped to use my own garden strawberries in this dessert, but they’ve been attacked by some kind of creepy crawly.

Slice the strawberries into even slices; mine were approximately 1/4″ thick. Place in a medium bowl. Add the sugar, and the juice of 1/2 an orange.


Toss well and set aside.

Using a square baking dish 8″ in diameter, begin by placing a layer of half of the marscapone mixture onto the bottom of the dish. Using a spatula, spread smooth.
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Pour approximately 1 1/2 cups of Essencia into a flat baking dish. Add the juice of one orange and stir well. Taste the mixture. If you want it sweeter, add a little honey or agave syrup.

Place the biscuits in the wine mixture, then turn over. You don’t want them to fall apart, but you do want them softened. Work with only a few at a time.

Place them over the marscapone in the baking dish. Make them fit however you have to!
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Add half the strawberries, then cover with the remaining marscapone, and top it with the remaining strawberries. There is only one layer of the softened biscuits.
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Cover the dish tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Slice and serve. I had mine still chilled with an espresso for breakfast!

But of course it’s perfect for dessert, warmed to room temperature, and served with Essencia or another dessert wine.


I put a few sprinkles of pearl sugar on the top for fun! It adds a sweet crunch.


This recipe doesn’t touch the traditional version of tiramisu, see note below, but it’s still really fun and highlights the sweet spring strawberries!


note: Traditional Italian tiramisu is typically made with a sabayon. My version is simpler, but not better. The sabayon makes the marscapone layer much lighter. Also, lady fingers and savoirdi biscuits have a similar shape, but that’s all they have in common. Lady fingers are light and soft, while savoirdi biscuits are hard and crisp. They should not be confused.

Strawberry Salad

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As I mentioned in my strawberry vinegar post, a green salad topped with fresh strawberries is extraordinary, but only in the springtime when it’s strawberry season. Any other time of year it just doesn’t seem right to me. A green salad with strawberries is also very pretty.

It was because of strawberry-topped salads that I was inspired to make a strawberry vinegar. I thought the layered effect of the strawberry-infused balsamic vinegar, along with the ripened strawberries would be a nice complement to greens.

For some crunch, you can add toasted walnuts or pecans, like I did, and crumbled bleu cheese or feta for extra deliciousness. Today I chose feta. I also included avocado slices for protein, plus a few radish slices for even more color. But other than that, I kept the salad simple in order for the ingredients to shine.
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If you don’t have a strawberry-infused vinegar, but want to make the salad, I’d keep the dressing simple. No strong-flavored dressings, just oil and vinegar. But you have choices there as well. You can use a good olive oil, like I did, or even a nut oil, like hazelnut or walnut. These oils are not only for autumnal salads because their flavors are mild. Even an orange-infused oil would be good in this salad, since it’s also mild. Vinegar-wise, I’d use a light-flavored vinegar, like a red wine or apple cider variety.

After one week of the fresh strawberries infusing white balsamic vinegar, it was time to decant. I tasted the vinegar first to make sure the flavor was right, and indeed it was. And just like the strawberry vodka I made last strawberry season, the color of the strawberries drained into the vinegar, so it’s really a lovely vinegar to use as well.

If the strawberries hadn’t faded in color so much, I would have used them in a chutney, but they just weren’t pretty enough, as you can see in the above left photograph.


For the salad, I used a butter lettuce – the kind that you can buy with the roots attached. I have some lettuce growing outside, but just not enough yet, thanks to our extended winter. I added the avocado, sliced strawberries, toasted pecans, and then sprinkled the feta on top.

Then I simply drizzled olive oil and the strawberry vinegar on top.


Plus a sprinkle of coarse salt.

You can always add black pepper as well.

Verdict: Fabulous! I will definitely keep making strawberry-infused vinegar and use it on my spring and summer salads. I can imagine it on grilled vegetables as well!

Strawberry Vinegar

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There is one thing that makes me crazy at restaurants, and that is non-seasonal menus. It makes me want to go yell at everyone involved with the food and menu. And I’m not a yelling kind of person. Just ask my kids. Or maybe don’t.

One menu item that infuriates me is a green salad topped with strawberries. In January. And it’s snowing outside.

Why? And where are you getting these strawberries? And what are they costing you? Because they’re certainly not locally harvested in January. Not in the northern hemisphere.

Strawberries are all about spring. Spring. Time. Add roasted butternut squash and warm lentils to your winter salad, maybe with some goat cheese. But save the strawberries for strawberry season.

Speaking of strawberry season, the featured photo is of some of my just-picked strawberries from last year. I especially love the smaller, wild strawberries because of their sweetness and almost perfume-like quality. But you won’t find me putting any of my garden-ripened berries in vinegar or vodka. I like them just picked, warm from the sun, even if there’s still a little dirt on them.

Store-bought berries are good for infusing vinegars and vodkas. As long as you can taste them and you know they’re sweet. A strong aroma is usually a good indication of their ripeness as well.

And just as an aside, the sweet strawberry vodka from last spring is my most favorite infused vodka I’ve ever made. Check it out if you’re interested; there’s still time.

But back to vinegar, I have actually never flavored my own vinegars. I typically add the flavorings when I make vinaigrettes. But in the spring, along with some fresh strawberries on a salad, I decided the layered effect of having a strawberry-infused vinegar was a must this year. Especially when just seasoning a simple salad with only oil and vinegar. No garlic, or mustard or other strong flavors to impede the deliciousness of strawberry.

I bought a quart of good strawberries, gave them a slight rinse, then let them drip dry on a towel. I thought about mashing or even blending the strawberries to a pulp, but since I wanted the resulting vinegar to be clear, I decided to simply slice them.

I placed the slices in a clean bottle with a wide neck, and added no more than 1 teaspoon of white sugar. Then, using a funnel, I poured white balsamic vinegar into the jar. I used 2 – 8.5 ounce bottles for the quart of strawberries.

After giving the closed jar a gentle shake, I placed the jar in my pantry, and decided that one week should be sufficient, but I’ll give the vinegar a taste to see if a week is a substantial amount of time first. Stay tuned if you’re interested!


Just in case you’re wondering, I chose a white balsamic instead of the traditional dark-brown color. I am a huge fan of balsamic vinegar – the aged and the less aged both. But they are brown. And this is just my personal opinion, but I have never liked the look of, for example, a pasta salad tossed with balsamic vinegar. It’s just not pretty. Since I wanted to use the strawberry vinegar for more than just my one salad in this post, I wanted it pink instead of brown.

If you don’t love the sweetness of a white balsamic vinegar, simply use an apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or a sherry vinegar.

Sweet Strawberry Vodka

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I was browsing at a liquor store a while back (doesn’t everyone do that!) and I came across one lonely bottle of strawberry vodka. It wasn’t very expensive, and I was definitely tempted, but sometimes flavored anything can have a chemical flavor instead of a natural flavor. And it seems like strawberry flavor can be the worst if it’s fake. So I passed. But instead, I decided to make my own.

We had an extremely late strawberry season, so at the beginning of June when I made the vodka, the strawberries were abundant and inexpensive.

My garden was producing a lot of strawberries, but I’m too selfish to use my home-grown berries for this vodka. They’re just too fun to pick and eat. Warm. Besides, the grocery store berries were very good and sweet.

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I’m not sure if this will end up a strawberry vodka or a strawberry liqueur – I’m kind of hitting it in the middle. And I won’t know the results for a couple of weeks. I’ve sampled a lot of flavored vodkas – especially at wine festivals – but I’ve never come across a strawberry version, except that lone bottle at the liquor store. So I’m a bit excited.

Sweet Strawberry Vodka

Rinse and dry 2 pounds of fresh strawberries. Have 1/2 gallon of good vodka on standby – I used a Texas import called Tito’s.

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Stem them, slice in half, and then place them in a large bowl. Cover the berries with 1 cup of sugar and toss them to coat.

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Let macerate for one hour.
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Then place them in a food processor and process until pulpy.

Place the berry mush in as many sterilized bottles as you decide to use. I decided to divide mine into three batches.

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Then add the vodka.

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Shake them up well, cover with sterilized lids, and place the bottles in a cool place for 2 weeks.

After 2 weeks, strain the vodka. Interestingly enough, the strawberries turned white, but the vodka turned a very pretty pink!

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The vodka came out with a definite strawberry flavor, a bit sweet, which is fine, but certainly not sweet like a liqueur. Perfect.

Now what to do with the vodka. I have a lot of ideas. First I tried it with 1/2 and 1/2. Delicious. Then, I added fresca to the same drink. Fabulous! It was like a strawberry vodka-flavored Italian ice!

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Then, I just tried it with fresca by itself, because I enjoy the combination of unflavored vodka and fresca. Also fabulous – with a nice strawberry flavor, but not overly sweet.

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Then for my final test of the strawberry flavored vodka, I made a martini of sorts for my husband (they’re just too strong for me.) I added equal parts strawberry vodka, Chambord (raspberry liqueur), and vodka. It turned out to be a very pretty color, and he said it was dynamite, and that I might like it. But, I like cocktails a little more diluted so I passed. The Berry Martini is pictured in the featured photo.

Other ideas:
S V with lemonade
S V with Chambord and champagne
S V with champagne or prosecco
S V with lemon sorbet and champagne
S V with tonic…

verdict: I will make this every spring!

Strawberry Blondies

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I don’t want to jinx this, but I think we may have found a handyman. This man, who is not only talented in the areas of carpentry and finishing work, is also nice and polite. But most importantly, he might single handedly keep our old house from falling down around us.

We have a list a mile long of things that have to be done to our house and property, and we’ve only lived in this house for nine years. Neither my husband nor I are skilled at working with cement, wood, or even paint. We probably shouldn’t even own a house – we should have a landlord. I’ve teased my husband for not knowing which end of a hammer to use, but honestly, I’m no better at home repair than he is.

Our house was built in 1927. It’s a beautiful house – a half-timbered English tudor. The man who built my house and the two large, neighboring homes was a wealthy oil man. An interesting note is that the homes on both sides of us were built for the man’s two daughters, and ours was built for the caretaker of the properties!

Like many homes in the U.S. that were built with money in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, there was a lot of European influence in the design details. Features like a carved travertine fireplace mantel, distressed wooden beams on the ceiling, arched doorways, and a winding, wooden staircase railing make this house unique. But historic or not, stuff happens to houses as they age.

As is typical with every town and city in this nation, I’m convinced, it’s nearly impossible to get people to work. You call – no one answers. You leave a message – they don’t return the call. They say they’ll come out – they don’t. They say they will work – and you never see them again. And so forth. I think everyone I talk to thinks they’re the only one to whom this happens. But it’s rampant.

Then we found this guy. Our guy, who shall remain nameless, has worked at our house for about two weeks. He’s even been up on the roof finding holes, which would explain the water damage on our walls. He didn’t even mind emptying all of the gutters, which were full. He also took the initiative to tell us about certain things that would be problematic in the near future. And, he takes iphone photos to prove it. I like that. Especially since neither my hubs or I will get up on the roof.

Now I’m not telling you all of this to make you jealous. Besides, we’re overdue for this kind of help! It’s just that I wanted to do something nice for this man, because I appreciate his hard work.

Somehow strawberry blondies came to mind. The guy probably needs a good chicken dinner (he’s had a lot of bad luck recently), but hopefully he’ll enjoy these. Sweets seem to make everyone happy.

I’ve seen a recipe before for strawberry blondies, but it used strawberry jam. Ick. Maybe in the winter? Because it’s strawberry season, albeit a late one, I thought I’d make these blondies with fresh strawberries. I also included white chocolate chips.

For those of you who don’t know what blondies are, like my husband, they are the non-chocolate version of brownies. Here’s the recipe.

Strawberry White Chocolate Blondies

6 ounces sliced strawberries
2 teaspoons white sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, not packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup white chocolate chips, about 4 3/4 ounces
2 teaspoon raw of turbinado sugar, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Grease or butter an 8″ square baking dish.

Place the sliced strawberries in a bowl and toss them gently with the sugar; set aside.
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In a medium bowl, combine the soft butter and brown sugar. Beat them together with an electric mixer until they mixture is smooth.

Add the eggs and vanilla extract together in a small bowl.

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Add to the sugar-butter mixture and beat for about 5 minutes.

Add about 1/2 cup of the flour and mix slowly to combine; don’t overmix. Then switch to a spatula and fold in the remaining flour , salt, and the baking powder.

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Then fold in the strawberries and chocolate chips, but leave a few pretty strawberry slices for the top of the blondies. Place the blondie batter in the greased baking dish, and smooth the top and fill in the corners.
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Use the few strawberry slices to place on top, pushing in a bit, so that they cook within the batter.

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Place the baking dish in the oven and cook them for 30 minutes. If the top of the blondies still look a little doughy, turn off the oven and leave them in the oven for five more minutes.

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Remove the blondies from the oven and let them rest for at 30 minutes. Carefully slice and remove them from the pan, then cut them into eight squares. Serve them warm or at room temperature.

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They even make a nice breakfast treat!

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verdict: Well, even though I was giving these away, I had to sample them since I had made up the recipe, and you know what? They’re darn good! And pretty, too! If I’d been smart, I’d have saved 8 slices of strawberries so that each square had it’s own pretty slice on top, like this one. Maybe next time!

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