There’s something to be said for fresh vegetables. Like the one’s that you get at the farmer’s market that look like they’ve just been pulled out of the ground because they still have dirt on them and all that green leafy matter attached. I love all the bright colors of vegetables, their earthiness, the smell and texture. Living in Southern California, and having a weekly farmer’s market five minutes away from my house, I’m never deprived of the best vegetables each season has to offer. On this week’s trip to the market I was presented with a bounty of juicy tomatoes, ripe California avocados and sweet bell peppers in glorious shades of red, yellow and orange.
When I returned home, I knew immediately what I was going to do with my bulging bag of veggies. Make gazpacho of course! For those of you not familiar with gazpacho, it is a cold, tomato-based soup which has it’s origins in Spain and is best served during the summer months (when tomatoes are their freshest) because it’s so darn refreshing. Gazpacho is a bowl of “earthy goodness”. It’s simple, straight forward, with nothing refined or processed…just good stuff from the ground.
Yes, there is something to be said for fresh vegetables. I don’t know what it is but I just feel smarter when I eat veggies. I notice a certain spring in my step upon consuming large quantities of vitamins and minerals. If you give this recipe a try, write back and let me know if you think your IQ just went up a couple of points. I bet it will.
Adapted From Pascal Lorange of Le Pain Quotidien
- 1 medium red bell pepper (70g)
- 2 ounces sourdough baguette, cut into small pieces (50g)
- 1 1/4 cups cold water (300ml)
- *3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
- 1 cup cucumber, peeled and diced (100g)
- 3 radishes, sliced
- 1/2 red onion, cut into slices
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
- 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, minced (or whatever fresh herb you have in the fridge)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- avocado slices
- radish, thinly sliced into matchsticks
- cucumber, thinly sliced into matchsticks
- scallion, thinly sliced
- extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Place your bell pepper in the center of a metal baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, turning the pepper every 10 minutes so that all sides will turn black and blistered. Remove from the oven and let cool. When you’re able to handle it, remove the skin from the pepper and take the seeds out. Cut the pepper into strips and set aside 1/3 (3 ounces/70g).
- Take the small baguette slices and place them in a large bowl filled with the cold water so that it may soak for an hour..
- Take the roasted pepper strips and the remaining ingredients, and add them to the large bowl containing the soaked bread. I then took the entire mixture and transferred it to my blender and mixed it on the puree setting until I had a smooth consistency. Then place the gazpacho into a covered container to sit in the refrigerator for about 4 hours to chill. As the mixture sits in the fridge, the flavors will develop.
- When you’re ready to serve the gazpacho, stir it well and pour into bowls. I like to garnish each bowl with scallion, cucumber, chunks of avocado, radish and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Then give a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper.
A quick and easy way to peel your tomatoes. Using a sharp knife, slice and “X” on the bottom of your tomato. Submerge the tomato in a pot of boiling water for about 20-30 seconds. Remove and let cool for a few minutes. The skin will gently peel away from the area where you made the “X”.
If you can refrain from eating your gazpacho immediately upon making it, let it sit over-night in the fridge as it will get nicely chilled, and the flavors of all your fresh vegetables will meld together beautifully.
I have read countless cook books where the authors have waxed poetically about a recipe that had been passed down to them from their mother or grandmother, and how they still have that recipe in their grandmother’s handwriting on a tattered and stained 3 x 5 card. I would love nothing more than to say this matzo ball recipe was lovingly passed down to me by my old Russian grandmother, but that’s just not the case. No, I got this particular recipe from You Tube. Yes, You Tube, go figure.
For years I’ve been making matzo balls, but I was just not achieving that lightness and fluffiness which is the cornerstone to the ultimate matzo ball. There are hundreds of recipes out there, with each one claiming to be the best matzo ball you’ve ever tasted. So here I was lost and perplexed, so I turned to the one place where I knew I could find some help. You Tube. In the last couple of years I have found that whenever I was not sure of how to do something, or did not know the answer to some of life’s burning questions, the answer could always be found on a You Tube video.
I was not to be disappointed. This particular You Tube video yielded what I consider to be one of the lightest matzo balls I’ve ever had. The darn thing practically floats on air. I know it’s not brain surgery, but I think whipping the egg whites and the addition of the bubbly club soda were those elusive components that were missing from my previous attempts.
From About.com Food
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup club soda
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- pinch of black pepper
- 1 cup matzo meal
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley
- With your 4 eggs, separate the whites from the yolks, putting the yolks in a small bowl and the whites in the bowl of an electric mixer.
- Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Add the yolks to this bowl and stir with a rubber spatula until they are incorporated.
- Add the club soda and the vegetable oil and stir until incorporated. Next, add the salt, pepper, matzo meal and parsley and stir with your spatula to incorporate.
- Your mixture will look loose and soupy, but cover and refrigerate the mixture for an hour, and miraculously the mixture will come together.
- Bring a large pot (like a stock pot) of salted water to a boil.
- Take your mixture out of the refrigerator, and place a bowl of vegetable oil next to it. Rub your hands in the oil to keep the mixture from sticking to your hands.
- Now comes the crucial part! Take about 2 tablespoons of the mixture, and without handling it very much, form it into a ball. Do not compact the mixture, use a very light hand. This will make for a light and fluffy matzo ball. Trust me!
- Place all the matzo balls into the boiling water. Cover the pot and keep the water at a low simmer for 30 minutes.
Makes 12-13 matzo balls
If you are not serving the matzo balls right away, place them in a container covered 1/4 of the way with either chicken broth or water.
My husband and I have this weird obsession with French onion soup. We order it in every restaurant we go to that has it on the menu. Although it’s a fairly simple soup, you would be surprised how differently, different restaurants prepare it. He and I took a vote, and we decided the best we’ve had so far is at a place called Cafe Cigale in Oak Park (the Agoura/Thousand Oaks area, if you’re a local).
During the winter I like to make this soup at home, it’s really a no-fail recipe. This rich and hearty soup is perfect for dinner parties, or just cold, blustery nights when you need your insides warmed-up. (It was in fact 80 degrees here today, but I made it anyway!) You might want to use a variety of onions such as yellow, red and sweet for a little more complex flavor. Either way, I just love the melt-y, crust-y, bubbly cheese on top when you first take it out of the oven. It’s so good!
French Onion Soup
Adapted From Williams Sonoma
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 2 1/2 lbs. yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 8 cups beef stock
- 1 bay leaf
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 French baguette
- 3 cups shredded Gruyère cheese
- In a large pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes until the onions are tender and a deep golden brown.
- Sprinkle the flour over the onions until combined. Stir in the wine, then the stock and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and discard the bay leaf.
- Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. You can use eight, 1 1/2-cup broilerproof soup crocks, (or I used smaller ramekins because I was making more servings and wanted a smaller appetizer portion). Cut the baguette into 1/2″ slices and place on a baking sheet. Place under broiler (12″ from heat) turning once so that they’re toasted on both sides.
- Ladle hot soup into the crocks (or ramekins). Place ramekins on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place 2 slices of toasted bread on top of soup, overlapping if necessary. Don’t let the bread sink down into soup. Sprinkle about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the cheese on top. Place under broiler until the cheese is bubbling. Serve at once. This will make 8, 1 1/2 cup crocks or even more if you’re using smaller ramekins.
Winter appears to be coming to an end here in Southern California. I like the wintertime because it breaks the monotony of all that darn sunshine we have the rest of the year. As I walked out into my yard today with my camera, and peeked around, I noticed plants and flowers starting to bud and bloom. We usually don’t have an abundance of rain, but this year there was more than usual and everything around me is so lush and green. Yes, spring is almost here and that means the season’s fresh fruits and vegetables are on their way. Soon I’ll be able to get a lot of my favorites grown locally such as artichokes, peas, radishes, cherries and strawberries. But, my all-time favorite spring vegetable is Asparagus!
I like asparagus “in” or “on” anything. I especially like to grill it on the barbecue. But even better than that is Asparagus Soup! To me, I enjoy nothing more than picking up some asparagus at the local farmer’s market and coming home to make this soup. This is my idea of springtime. It’s so fresh and full of flavor.
From Gourmet Magazine 2001
2 pounds green asparagus
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons, unsalted butter
5 to 6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Cut tips from 12 asparagus, 1 1/2 inches from top and halve tips lengthwise if thick. Reserve for garnish.
Cut stalks and all remaining asparagus into 1/2 inch pieces.
Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter in a 4 quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring until softened. Add asparagus pieces and salt and pepper to taste, then cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Add 5 cups broth and simmer, covered, until asparagus is very tender, 20 minutes.
While soup simmers, cooked reserved asparagus tips in boiling, salted water until just tender, 3-4 minutes, then drain.
Puree soup in batches in a blender until smooth, (use caution when blending hot liquids in blender, put towel over top of blender). Place a strainer or sieve over large bowl, and strain soup into the bowl. Return soup to heavy pot. Stir in heavy cream, then add more broth to thin soup to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Bring soup to a boil and whisk in remaining tablespoon of butter. Add lemon juice.
Garnish with asparagus tips.
Soup will keep, covered and chilled, 2 days.
As a side note, I purchased these 2 ounce shot glasses at the 99 Cent Store, and I use them all the time. I ‘ve made little fruit and yogurt parfaits in them, or mini-layered desserts. I always find fun glass containers there that I can use when I’m entertaining a large group. I suggest you check it out.