By BRENDA LUCAS

For The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON - Strawberries kick off the growing season as the first ripe fruit of spring. The powerful fruit is also celebrated one week in May as Jim's Steak and Spaghetti House prepares and sells slices for its Strawberry Pie Week. This year's week-long sale was May 14-18 with 11,310 slices sold, exceeding last year's total amount of 10,680. In fact, the entire month of May honors the red, nutritious berry as it is National Strawberry Month.

Whether cooked, blended, frozen or fresh from the farm as is, strawberries can give any meal of the day a delicious flavor. The red, sweet, juicy and tart gem is also one of the healthiest foods anyone can eat, according to webmd.com.

One cup of this versatile fruit contains more vitamin C than an orange, nearly half the sugar of an apple, a third of the calories of a banana and twice the fiber of a serving of grapes. They also are rich in potassium, folic acid and folate. Strawberries are also cholesterol free, low in fat and sodium.

This fruit - the only one with seeds on the outside - is perfect in salads, muffins, smoothies, desserts and many additional recipes, such as this one from Betty Crocker Kitchens:

SLAB STRAWBERRY

SHORTCAKE

Shortcake

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

5 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup cold butter, cut in pieces

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2 cups heavy whipping cream

Strawberries

1 quart strawberries, sliced

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Topping

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 400 degrees. In large bowl, stir flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, baking powder and salt until blended. Cut in butter, using pastry blender or fork, until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. In small bowl, beat eggs and 2 cups whipping cream just until blended. Stir into flour mixture until mixture forms a soft dough. Using lightly floured fingers, pat and press dough in bottom of 15- by 10- by 1-inch ungreased pan. Bake 16 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, in large bowl, mix strawberries and 1/4 cup granulated sugar; stir occasionally. When ready to serve, in chilled large bowl, beat Topping ingredients with electric mixer on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Spread top with whipped cream. Using slotted spoon, spoon sugared berries over top. Cut into four rows by four rows. Store covered in refrigerator.

This recipe is from Southern Living:

MINI STRAWBERRY TARTS

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup chopped pistachios

6 tablespoons salted butter, cubed

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

2 teaspoons lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh juice

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 8 (3 1/2-inch) round, 1-inch-deep mini fluted tart pans with removable rims, and place on large rimmed baking sheet. Process flour, powdered sugar, and pistachios in food processor until nuts are finely ground, about 1 minute. Add cubed butter to processor, and pulse 6 to 8 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press about 4 1/2 tablespoons of flour mixture on bottom and up sides of each tart pan. Bake in preheated oven until lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove tart pans to wire rack, and cool completely (about 30 minutes). Beat cream cheese with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add lemon zest, lemon juice and 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and beat until well blended. Gently fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture until incorporated. Spoon about 5 tablespoons of cream cheese mixture into each tart shell. Cover tarts with plastic wrap, and chill 4 to 24 hours. Toss together sliced strawberries and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and spoon on tarts just before serving.

This recipe is taken from Home Cooking with Trisha Yearwood:

STRAWBERRY SALAD

Salad

1 package ramen noodles, crushed, flavor packet discarded

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 head romaine lettuce, washed and dried

1 (5-ounce) bag baby spinach

1 pint strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced

1 cup grated Parmesan

Dressing

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoons salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

For salad: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In small bowl, mix ramen noodles, almonds, sunflower seeds and melted butter. Transfer to baking sheet and toast in oven, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Tear lettuce and combine with spinach, strawberries and cheese in large salad bowl.

For dressing: Dissolve sugar in vinegar. Combine oil, paprika, salt and garlic and then add to sugar-vinegar mixture. Mix well and store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Just before serving, sprinkle the crunchy topping over salad green and toss salad with enough dressing to coat greens.

The following recipe is adapted from Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen by Trisha Yearwood:

JOE'S 'SAY CHEESE'

CHEESECAKE WITH FRESH STRAWBERRY SAUCE

Crust

Cooking spray

1 1/2 cups fine graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter, melted

Filling

4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese

2 cups sour cream

4 large eggs

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Strawberry Sauce

1 to 1 1/4 cups halved fresh strawberries

1/4 cup sugar

1 lime, zested

For crust: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray bottom of 10-inch springform pan with cooking spray; line bottom with round of parchment paper; and spray paper with cooking spray. Place pan on sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and bring foil up around sides to enclose seam between bottom and sides of pan (this will prevent water from leaking in). Stir together graham cracker crumbs and sugar in mixing bowl. Add melted butter and mix until crumbs are coated. Press mixture firmly into bottom of pan and up sides. Set aside.

For filling: In stand mixer, beat cream cheese together with sour cream. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sugar, cornstarch and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Pour filling into prepared crust. Set foil-wrapped pan inside larger pan, and carefully pour 1/2 inch warm water into larger pan to create water bath. Bake 1 hour. Turn off oven, open oven door and let cheesecake stand in opened oven 1 hour. Refrigerate cheesecake 2 hours or overnight before removing it from pan.

For sauce: Process strawberries, sugar and lime zest in food processor or blender until smooth. Chill at least 1 hour before serving. (The sauce is best served cold from refrigerator.)

Martha Stewart shares this one:

STRAWBERRY CREAM CAKE

Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup whole milk

Filling

1 pound strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from 1/4-ounce envelope)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bottom of 8-inch round cake pan, and line with parchment paper. Butter and flour paper and sides. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Using electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture in 3 parts and milk in 2, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes; invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Using a serrated knife, split cake in half horizontally; place bottom half, cut side up, on a serving plate.

Make topping: In large bowl, combine strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar; set aside. Place 2 tablespoons cold water in small saucepan, and sprinkle with gelatin; let soften 5 minutes. Place saucepan over very low heat and stir until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat; let cool. Using electric mixer, beat cream and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in large bowl until very soft peaks form. Continue to beat, and gradually add gelatin mixture; beat until soft peaks form. Arrange half of strawberries over bottom cake layer; top with half of whipped cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Cover with top half of cake, cut side down. Top cake with remaining whipped cream, leaving a 1-inch border. Refrigerate cake and remaining strawberries separately, at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day). Just before serving, spoon strawberries over cake.

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