Friday, February 11, 2011

Chocolate Covered Strawberries!

First, a little exciting news!

They say when chocolate and flowers aren't enough...

I attended the Love is Murder mystery conference this past weekend. Always in the Chicago area, always an incredibly great time. People talk about how this is one of the warmest, most welcoming conferences out there, and they're right. So much fun. The blizzard of 2011 might have scared folks a bit in the days leading up to it, but by the time the wonderful organizers opened the doors, Chicago had its act together and we were ready to have fun.

At the Saturday banquet, Love is Murder bestows their version of a readers' choice award -- the Lovey -- to authors in various categories. I was delighted and thrilled when GRACE UNDER PRESSURE won a Lovey for "Best Traditional/Amateur Sleuth." A full list of winners can be found on Carol Thomas's Mystery Examiner Series article here.

Below is a photo of my award, isn't it gorgeous?

More news! The Love Is Murder organizers asked me to be their local guest of honor next year! How cool is that!! The other guests of honor will be Donald Bain, Julie James, David Morrell, and the delightful Hank Phillippi Ryan who has guested here a few times.

If you have a chance to come to Chicago next February 3 -5, please do so. Yes, I know it's cold here, but the people are warm and the conference is lovely.

Okay, are you still with me?

I received more awesome good news Wednesday. EGGSECUTIVE ORDERS, third in my White House Chef Mystery series, has been nominated for a BARRY AWARD in the Best Paperback Original category!

I am crazy excited and honored beyond belief. Others in my category include Val McDermid, Bryan Gruley, Sophie Hannah, Judith Rock, and A.D. Scott. Congrats to all, and good luck all around! The complete list of nominees can be found on Janet Rudolph's blog here.

You know, I'm feeling kind of out of breath just typing all that. I can't even begin to tell you what a whirlwind week this has been. Only problem... I haven't gotten any writing done! Yikes. Next week for sure!

In the meantime, I need something sweet and delicious to help celebrate Valentine's Day. And what better choice than....

Chocolate Covered Strawberries!!

Chocolate covered strawberries just ooze with Valentine's Day goodness, don't they? One of our favorite local restaurants - which is also a winery - always has delicious, fresh, chocolate covered strawberries on display. I find it *very* difficult to pass by without picking out a couple to take home.

But on these snowy, wintry days, nobody wants to go out. Not even for dinner. (Did I actually just say that??)

This Valentine's Day, why not surprise your sweeties (spouses, kids, significant others) with chocolate covered strawberries? They're easy, delicious, and I have a few hints and ideas I picked up over the years of making them.

A long time ago, a relative who always made chocolate covered strawberries for family events gave me her secret. Melt a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips in the microwave, she said, but be sure to add a couple tablespoons of butter to make it smooth. And you know what, that worked. Except... I dunno... the strawberries came out with a matte finish. And they were just a little grainy, melting quickly in my fingers when I picked them up.

But then I started adding a couple tablespoons of Crisco (vegetable shortening) instead. Yeah, I know this isn't the healthiest recipe in the world, but do I plan to eat an entire pound of these at one sitting?

Umm, well, hmm. Maybe I'd better not answer that!

Anyway, just like Cleo, this is less a recipe than a how-to.

Here goes:

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate morsels (I prefer semi-sweet, but you can adjust with other flavors as you prefer)
2 Tbsp Crisco shortening, to give your strawberries that shine
1 or 2 long skewers
Toppings of choice... coconut shavings, crushed nuts, etc. I used Heath Bar crumbles - little toffee bits - that I found in the same area as my chocolate morsels.

Wash and dry strawberries. Keep the green tops on. Now... I know you've heard this before, but be sure these strawberries are completely dry. Even the tiniest bit of water can cause chocolate to seize up. With the Crisco in there, the worry is slightly diminished, but you really don't want grainy chocolate. Strawberries = dry.

Melt chocolate and Crisco in a microwave safe bowl by heating for about 15 seconds, stirring, and repeating until the mixture is smooth. You may find you need to add a little more Crisco, but don't add too much. You don't want a watery consistency.

Spear the top of a strawberry with one of your skewers and twirl in the bowl of melted chocolate until it's about 3/4 covered. I used to do this with my fingers, but the spear makes it so much easier!

At this point, you could be done. Using a fork, or your fingers, slide the chocolate covered strawberry onto wax paper to dry.

But... if you want to add extra flavor, you can take the freshly dipped strawberry and roll it in a small bowl of your topping of choice. I wasn't quite sure how the toffee would work - wasn't sure if the sweet, juicy strawberry and the coarse, crunchy toffee would work well together (sometimes it's a texture thing, you know?) but I am very happy to say that the combination was a huge hit. In fact, the toffee covered ones were the first to go.
Yep. Ate them all that afternoon.
Did I really just say that, too?

Thanks for stopping by today and thanks for letting me share my good news. Hope you enjoy making these. They're crazy-easy and make such a beautiful display. The only problem? There are never enough!

Happy Valentine's Day!



  1. Okay, Julie, I'm not crazy enough to pass up a chance to visit with you AND meet Hank in person, so the Feb. date of next year's LIM is now on my calendar. Are you going to make Printer's Row this year?
    Oh, and...these sound wonderful! Any fresh fruit sounds great to me right now - I've got a really bad case of want-spring-itis!

  2. Congratulations to you, Julie! Much deserved award and nomination!

    I'm thinking that right NOW is a good time for chocolate-covered strawberries, after seeing them here. :) Of course, it's 5 a.m. and I don't have any strawberries. I'm going to have to get connected to some as soon as possible, though. Thanks!

  3. Julie - You've given us a Double-Chocolate reason for us to celebrate this AM with your Lovey Award and Barry Nomination! Big congrats on two well deserved honors. I am raising my cup o' morning Joe in a happy toast to you (and pretending I have a plate of your chocolate covered strawberries to go with)! Now go celebrate!

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. Huge congrats, Julie! You deserve it too. Love is Murder was a wonderful conference this year and will be even more wonderful next year.

    And the strawberries? Bliss.

  5. Julie, you're on fire! Congratulations on all your excellent (and well-deserved) news.

    And thank you for reminding us of the simple pleasures ... for dessert, my mind usually goes straight to some complicated confection. But chocolate covered strawberries are heaven - and I appreciate the tips on making them professionally (I usually get the grainy chocolate problem ...).

  6. Shel - excellent! Glad I could convince you. You'll love LiM! And I hope to make Printers Row this year. It's on the calendar!

    Elizabeth - I made another batch last night. A whole pound. As of this morning I have 4 left and want to scarf them down for breakfast. But then what would I have later when I need a pick-me-up? It's torture waiting!

  7. Cleo - I'm virtually clinking my cup of morning Joe with yours. Thanks for the congrats!

    MJ- it was so great to see you! Too fun to have two of us running around there, yapping about Mystery Lovers' Kitchen!

    Wendy - thanks! I know a lot of people use the almond bark (why do they call it almond when it's chocolate??) instead, but I find that just a little too hard to work with. For chocolate covered pretzels, however, it's bark all the way. Simplicity is sometimes the best, isn't it?

  8. Julie - Huge Congratulations!!!! Well, deserved, my friend.

    O.K. - chocolate covered strawberries at our house this weekend to celebrate St. Valentine's Day AND Donald's birthday (which is the day before). He thanks you, I'm sure!

  9. Congratulations Julie! What wonderful news -- I just love your books! I also love those chocolate covered strawberries ... I am already plotting a romantic evening a deux with my husband ...

  10. Julie, this is such a great idea! Chocolate covered strawberries not only taste good, they look beautiful, too.

    For those who don't care for Crisco, Spectrum makes an organic all vegetable shortening out of palm oil that works very nicely. It's non-hydrogenated, vegan, gluten-free and Kosher!

    ~ Krista

  11. Kaye - thank you!! Happy birthday to Donald! A double celebration!

    Hannah - so nice to see you! Have a wonderful evening with your husband and thanks so much for the congrats!

    Krista - I always love the easy way out. Especially when it's this delicious. Thanks for the Spectrum suggestion. I'd never heard about it before. This is great!

  12. Congratulations Julie on your Lovey Award and your Barry nomination!

  13. Such excitement! Congratulations on the award and the nomination. And thanks for blogging about strawberries & chocolate...a favorite of mine!

  14. Congrats on the wonderful news, Julie!

    Those chocolate covered treats look gorgeous on your pretty plate. Just added strawberries to my list, thanks!

  15. Julie, congratulations on your Lovey Award and on your Barry nominations! Wahoooooo! You know how much I love your books and I'm so excited for you.

    Love the chocolate strawberries and all the added things you can roll them in. Good and yummy. Can't wait to make them.

    Best and another wahooo!

  16. Dru - thank you!! I'm still in shock. What a wonderful week!

    Erika - my favorites too. In fact, I think I may need to make a run for more strawberries. Ate up those last four...

    Thanks, Lynn - they do look so pretty, don't they? I love serving them because they look so elegant.

    Hey Avery - Too exciting for words. Can't wait for Bouchercon!

  17. Julie I completely forgot to congratulate you on the award and the nomination! I'm so happy for you!

    I also wanted to ask how to store these. Assuming, of course, that one isn't planning to eat them all before the guests arrive! ; )

    ~ Krista

  18. Julie,
    My heartiest Huzzah and Brava to you on your awards. They are well deserved!

    Being a die hard fan of the lovely super sweet lil' MI strawberries we get here in June making chocolate cover berries is an annual event here. If I may answer Krista's question about storing them I always put them in a parchment cover plastic container...using 2 layers of parchment and carefully placing them you can layer up to 3 times. But...there are very rarely that many left!! I don't put them in the fridge because the chocolate gets kind of weird...that's a technical culinary term, by the way!!

  19. I wonder ... I don't have any shortening, and use it so rarely (only when I make a pie crust) that it doesn't make a lot of sense to keep it around. But I wonder if coconut oil would accomplish the same thing? Will try and report back ...

  20. Oh Krista, no worries! There aren't too many left, usually, but when I store them, I cover them lightly and put them in the fridge. Generally they're gone the next day, so I haven't had any long-term storage experience!

    Nanc - I do put mine in the fridge, but I may try keeping them elsewhere, cool but not cold. So far, haven't had that "weird" chocolate issue with refrigerated strawberries, but then again, we eat them pretty quickly!

    Wendy - hmmm. I don't know! But I'd love to hear what you find out!

  21. Congratulations, Julie!!!!

    I'm wondering if the butter-flavored Crisco might be the best of both worlds by adding the shin and smoothness of shortening with a touch of the butter flavor.

    I'll have to try that and the coconut oil that Wendy mentioned. I wonder if you get a tiny taste of coconut. Like covering a strawberry with a Mounds bar. :-)

  22. Oooh.... Harbinger! What a great idea! I never thought of butter flavored Crisco. Genius!! Thanks! And thank you for the congrats! (Still dancing here!)

  23. Congratulations, Julie, on your well-deserved honors!

    Those toffee strawberries look heavenly. And yes, Wendy, coconut oil will do just fine, and gives it that shine. It does, however, soften the chocolate, so I use only 1 T. per 6 oz. chocolate.