When I first migrated to LA back in the late 70’s, I moved into one of those sprawling apartment complexes in the San Fernando Valley. It housed transplants literally from all over the world. Young people who came seeking fame and fortune and hoping to get their big break, and people like me who were just looking to escape the cold, brutal weather of the east coast. I came with nothing but a suitcase and $400, so moving into a furnished apartment meant I could live with some of the comforts of home. It was a lovely place really, gold shag carpeting, plaid sofas and avocado colored formica counter tops. It had all the warmth and coziness of a Motel 6, but it was home.
I remember those first months living in LA all by myself so well. It was lonely and exciting all at the same time. Everyone at this complex was very friendly. We all seemed to be in the same boat; without family, little money, and crappy jobs, but very intoxicated by the perpetually blue skies, balmy weather and swaying palm trees. (You didn’t see many palm trees in Philadelphia.) My neighbors across the hall were a brother and sister team from North Jersey named Theresa and Anthony. He called her “Tree” and she called him “Ant”. I guess being east coasters we connected. Every night they saw me come home from work with a McDonald’s bag in hand, so they decided to teach me how to make Tomato Sauce and Meatballs. I’m not sure they were necessarily very good cooks, but I’ve been making their sauce (or gravy as they called it) and meatballs ever since.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
- 3 cans (28 ounce) crushed tomatoes – I used San Marzano
- 5 large basil leaves
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Empty the 3 cans of crushed tomatoes with the juice into a large stock pot. I used a deep pot because tomato sauce splatters like crazy. If you have a splatter shield, now’s the time to bring it out.
- Add the basil leaves, thyme sprigs, salt, brown sugar and butter, and heat on medium until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and stir until the butter is melted. You’re going to cook the sauce low and slow for about 2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so. When sauce is ready, pull out the basil leaves and thyme sprigs and discard.
- As the sauce cooks it will begin to reduce, so you will have to add some water to it to get your desired consistency. I wanted a smooth and creamy sauce, so at the end of cooking I used my immersion blender for about a minute or two. You could also pour it into a blender for a smoother consistency.
- 3/4 pound ground beef
- 3/4 pound ground veal
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
- 1/4 cup grated romano cheese
- 1/2 small onion, pureed in food processor
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
- Place your onion in a food processor and process until it’s finely minced. (I used my mini food processor). Put the onion and all the other ingredients into a large bowl and mix with your hands. Make sure to incorporate all the ingredients evenly throughout.
- Form into balls, a little bit larger than a golf ball. Don’t work the meat too much, because you don’t want the meatballs to be dense (like golf balls).
- Put about 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet on medium heat, and brown the meatballs just til you get a nice crust to form on the outside. You are not cooking them through in the skillet. When the meatball is a little crusty, then pop it into the pot of sauce, and let all the meatballs cook for about 30 minutes on a very low heat. The meatballs will flavor your sauce as it cooks, and then it will taste awesome!
Cooking the meatballs in the sauce is what gives the sauce it’s amazing flavor.
This recipe makes enough meatballs (about 30 – golf ball sized) and sauce, that you can have some now and freeze the rest for another meal. Just place in an airtight container.
Meatballs don’t always have to be served with pasta. I make these as an appetizer all the time. Put the meatballs on a dish with a fancy toothpick through them, hit them with a dollop of sauce and sprinkle with fresh grated parmesan cheese.
For Friday night dinners with the kids, I get some good Italian rolls and make some awesome meatball sandwiches.
As a kid, I never looked twice at a beet. Back then, they were a vegetable I was usually forced to eat, but never consumed by choice. I think a lot of it had to do with how they were prepared or maybe integrated into a dish. As a youth, no one ever showed me what an absolutely awesome vegetable the beet actually was. When they’re perfectly roasted, the beet’s natural sweetness and earthiness is developed.
I was invited to a birthday brunch last weekend, and was given the task of bringing an appetizer. I thought these Golden Beets with Smoked Trout and Dill was the perfect choice to bring. Growing up in Philadelphia, bagels and lox was a Sunday morning staple, so this was my take on that dish. The combination of the sweet beets, the smokey taste of the fish and the tart cream cheese was loved by all. I like when that happens.
Roasted Golden Beets with Smoked Trout & Dill
- 12 medium size golden beets or 6 large
- 1 package of Smoked Trout (usually in the deli section)
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- couple sprigs of dill
- salt & pepper to taste
- olive oil
- 24 water crackers
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the green, leafy tops off of the beets. Place all the beets in a large bowl, and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and then toss to coat. Wrap 3 beets (if using small ones, or 1 at a time if using large ones) in aluminum foil to make little packets.
- Place the aluminum packets on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes. The size of the beet will determine how long you need to roast it. A larger, denser beet will take longer. The beets are done when you can pierce them with a fork. When they’re done, open the packets and let the beets cool. Once cooled, place the beet in between a paper towel and rub the beet skin right off.
- Slice the beets into 1/8 – 1/4 inch slices.
- Place a beet slice on a water cracker, top with a little dollop of cream cheese, a piece of the smoked trout, and a tiny sprig of dill.
The size of the beet will determine the cooking time. Larger sized beets will take longer in the oven. They’re done when you can pierce them easily with a fork.
You can find the packaged Smoked Trout in the deli section of your market with the packaged lunch meats and smoked salmon. I bought a 5 ounce package, and it was plenty.
Each year, I live for that two month period that begins with Halloween and sees me through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. I’m totally grateful that it’s filled with family, fun and way, I mean way too much food. It’s a whirlwind of turkeys, hams, cookies, cakes and lots and lots of sugar. In fact, I think I need to detox from all the sugar still in my system.
But alas, it’s January 6th and the party’s over. The east coast friends have all gone home, the kid’s back at school and Mama is left jonesing for her next gig. Just business as usual. And so, I set my sights on Super Bowl Sunday.
The truth is, I don’t even like football, (did I just hear a gasp from all over America). But I love all the commercials, and who doesn’t love a good ‘ol half-time show. Ok, so just me. I know it’s a little far in advance, but I’ve already started planning my menu for game day. For dessert, I decided to serve these Banana Cream Pie Mini Shooters. Their taste scores a touchdown, but their small size won’t hit ‘ya in the end zone if you know what I mean. I know, lame football humor…
Banana Cream Pie Dessert Shooters
- 2 1/4 cups whole milk
- 1/2 vanilla bean – split down center
- 5 large egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons baker’s sugar (superfine)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 6 teaspoons corn starch
- 1/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut (optional)
- 1 medium ripe banana
- 1 medium banana
- 5 graham crackers
- 1/3 cup almonds (blanched or sliced, optional)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- Extra almonds for garnish
- In a medium size pot over medium heat warm the milk and the vanilla bean just until boiling. Just as it reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and the sugar on medium speed until it becomes pale and thick. Reduce the mixer to low and stir in the flour and cornstarch, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides periodically. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk, and slowly stir the milk into the egg/flour mixture.
- Pour this mixture back into your pot and heat gently over a medium heat. Using a wire whisk (if you don’t have one, a wooden spoon will work also), continuously whisk the mixture until it thickens and comes to a boil. Boil for one minute and keep on whisking so that lumps do not form and the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Remove from the heat and continue to whisk for a minute or two then pour the mixture into a large bowl to cool. Cover the surface of the mixture with plastic wrap so that a skin doesn’t form.
- You can make this pastry cream a day in advance and keep it covered in the refrigerator.
- When you’re ready to use the pastry cream, take the ripe banana and with a fork or the back of a spoon, mash the banana until it’s almost like a puree. Then whisk it into the pastry cream. If you choose to use the coconut, whisk it into the pastry cream.
- Place the graham crackers and almonds in a food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs, transfer to bowl and set aside.
- In a medium bowl beat (either with a stand mixer with whisk attachment, hand mixer or wire whisk) the heavy cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. You can make the whipped cream in advance too, just cover and keep in the fridge a day in advance.
- To assemble the shooters: Place two teaspoons of the crumbs into the bottom of the shot glass. Slice the remaining banana into 1/2″ slices, and place the banana on top of the crumbs. You can spoon the pastry cream into the shot glass or you can pipe it in with a pastry bag. Using a pastry bag fitted with a star tip, pipe the whipped cream on top of the pastry cream layer. Garnish with sliced almonds, sliced bananas or toasted coconut.
Makes 10 shooters (approximately 2.5 ounces each)
The pastry cream can be made a day in advance. When the cream has cooled, cover the surface with plastic wrap so a skin will not form and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
The whipped cream can be made in advance also. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form and then transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
The graham cracker crumbs can be made a day in advance. Just store in a covered container until ready to use.
I add the nuts to the graham crackers because it gives the crumbs some added texture which is a nice compliment to the banana cream. However, if you or someone else has a nut allergy then just eliminate them from the recipe.
When I got up this morning I was actually planning to do another blog posting about cookies. I know what you’re thinking, Mama, enough with the cookies already. It is an uncharacteristically cold and gloomy day here, yes, 55 degrees is cold, so I decided to re-think my strategy. I thought I should choose to make something for my posting that I could also serve to the family for dinner tonight. Ah yes, therefore killing two birds with one stone.
Due to the aforementioned gloominess, I decided that my family would probably appreciate some good ‘ol comfort food. I don’t know about you, but grilled cheese and tomato soup is about as cozy as you can get. I rarely get a reaction from the husband and kids regarding my cooking, but the Roasted Tomato Soup got rave reviews.
It’s just a suggestion, but if you’re having a get-together for New Year’s, how about Roasted Tomato Soup Shots with a dollop of creme fraiche, or for a New Year’s brunch you can serve the soup in mason jars with a mini grilled cheese sandwich. And the best part is you can make the soup in advance, because it will actually taste better the next day.
Roasted Tomato Soup
- 2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes (I used tomatoes on the vine)
- 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cans (28 oz) San Marzano Tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon of cumin
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche, sour cream, yogurt or mascarpone (optional)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F, and place rack in the lower third of oven. Wash and dry tomatoes, and then cut them in half. Using your fingers, gently squeeze out the seeds. Place the tomatoes and garlic in a large bowl and drizzle with the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and toss it all together with your hands. Spread the tomatoes out on a large baking sheet cut side up. Place the garlic pieces in the tomato cavity (I don’t know what else to call it) as shown in the above photo. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until tomatoes begin to caramelize. Yum, now we’re creating great flavor! Then set aside to cool.
- Now, strain the juice into a measuring cup or bowl, from the 2 cans of tomatoes and reserve for later. You should have about 1 cup of liquid from the cans. Next, puree the canned tomatoes, the roasted tomatoes and garlic in batches in a blender and place in a large bowl.
- In a large stock pot, melt 4 tablespoons of butter, then add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 medium, diced onion. Sweat the onion for about 5 minutes until it becomes translucent. Add 1/4 cup of flour and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and quickly whisk or stir with a wooden spoon for about 1 minute until all ingredients are incorporated.
- Add all the pureed tomato and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, the bay leaf, cumin, rosemary spring, thyme sprigs, reserved juice and 1 cup of chicken broth. Whisk to make sure no flour has stuck to the bottom. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring in 15 minute intervals. Remove the rosemary and thyme sprigs. After it simmered, I used an immersion blender to blend the onion into the soup. If you don’t have one, you could run it through the blender again. You should let the soup cool a bit before you so though, because hot liquids spurt out of the blender. Cover the top of the blender with a kitchen towel.
- I ran the soup through a sieve to remove any seeds and tomato skin and ended up with a smooth, silky soup. I returned the soup to the stock pot to warm before serving.
- I like to serve the soup with a little dollop of creme fraiche for a little added creaminess.
Makes about 8 cups of soup
You can store the soup in a sealed container. It’s actually better the next day after all the flavors meld together. Just gently reheat to serve.
If you want to make this a vegetarian dish, you can substitute the chicken broth with vegetable broth or water.
To add extra creaminess to the soup, you can garnish it with creme fraiche, sour cream, yogurt or mascarpone.
If your soup comes out too thick, then just thin it with a little extra broth or water. But remember, add just a little at a time to achieve your desired consistency.
I’m sure when I grew up in the “olden days” there was a variety of apples available, but really, all I remember was the Red Delicious Apple. Now I certainly don’t want to offend any apple growers out there who grow the Red Delicious, or insult avid fans of the Red Delicious, but it’s because of that particular fruit that I never really took a liking to apples. Unfortunately the Red Delicious is a mealy apple that’s not crisp or sweet or appealing in any way. Please don’t be mad at me for saying this, but I think it’s the truth.
Okay, fast forward to modern times. So, I walk into my local Whole Foods the other day and was overwhelmed by the sheer variety of apples they had for sale. You name it, Gala, Fuji, Jazz, Honeycrisp and Ambrosia, just to name a few. I couldn’t decide which variety to go with, so I bought them all.
Now, armed with a plethora of fall apples, came the decision of what to do with them. I had been to a restaurant the day before call Gjelina in Venice, California (which was quite hip and happening, I must say) and had their apple salad. I loved it so much I decided to recreate it at home. This Apple & Cheddar Salad is the perfect beginning to an autumn dinner or a Saturday brunch. The sweet crunch of the apples goes perfectly with the saltiness of the cheese.
Apple & Cheddar Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
- 2 large crisp apples, any variety
- 2 stalks of celery
- 4 ounces of good quality cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 head of mustard greens
- Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- pinch of sugar
- 1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Place first 6 ingredients in a small jar and shake real well. Add in the olive oil and shake vigorously again so that dressing begins to thicken. I make the dressing a day in advance so that the flavors meld together. Refrigerate for up to one week.
- Place pine nuts in a small, frying pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until nuts begin to brown and release their natural oils. Place in a small dish to cool and set aside.
- With a sharp knife, chop your celery stalks crosswise into thin slices, or use a mandolin. Set aside.
- Thinly chop your mustard greens (chiffonade) and toss into a bowl or your can individually plate 4 separate salads.
- With a sharp knife, thinly slice the cheddar cheese and set aside.
- You can use a mandolin to slice the apples in round slices, or use a sharp knife to slice the apples into thin wedges, removing the core and seeds. Place the apple slices into a bowl of acidulated water. When you’re ready to plate your salad, take slices out of water, and pat dry.
- Plate all ingredients onto individual plates, or combine into a large bowl and toss with vinaigrette.
Makes 4 appetizer sized salads
To stop fruit from oxidizing, place fruit in a bowl of 1 cup cold water to 1 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice. Increase the amount of water/juice depending on how much fruit you are using. When you’re ready to use the fruit, just pat dry with a paper towel.
Ooooh mama, look what I got in the mail today! If you follow my blog then you know I recently featured a posting for an almond pear cake. Apparently someone at Frog Hollow Farm saw that posting and realized that I must be a serious pear lover, and offered to send me a box of their pears. Well Mama never turns down offers of food.
It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon and the husband and I haven’t eaten lunch yet, so I’m thinking grilled cheese and pears because it’s a perfect combination. I always have arugula and pecans on hand so this is pretty much a done deal. It’s buttery, it’s creamy, it’s sweet, it’s crunchy…do I have your attention yet???
I really want to thank the folks at Frog Hollow Farm because these were probably the best pears I ever had, and I’m not just saying that. These particular pears that they sent were called Warren Pears, and they were sweet and juicy and devoid of that grittiness that pears can sometime have. If you’re a pear lover like me, then I would recommend you check them out.
Grilled Brie & Pear Sandwich
- 4 slices of bread – I chose a hearty multi grain variety
- 1 firm, ripe pear – any variety
- small wedge of brie, cut into 1/8″ slices
- handful of fresh arugula
- handful of toasted pecans
- 1/2 stick butter, at room temperature
- Using a mandolin on the larger setting, slice your pears and with a sharp knife, slice out the core and seeds.
- Butter the four slices of bread making sure you cover every square inch of bread with butter to insure perfect toastiness. Layer a bread slice with the arugula and pecans, several pear slices, and the brie. Then place the second bread slice on top.
- Heat a cast iron skillet to medium and place the sandwich in the pan. Let the sandwich get a nice sear on it, then cover the pan with a lid to allow the cheese to melt better. When the sandwich is golden on the first side. Flip it over until it browns on the other side.
Makes 2, darn good sandwiches
I just couldn’t get enough of these scrumptious pears, so I sliced some up on the thinner setting of the mandolin and made some pear chips to serve along with our sandwiches. However, to really savor the loveliness of this fruit, one should just eat it in it’s natural state!
This weekend my family will celebrate a most momentous occasion, that being my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary. They were of course, the Ward and June Cleaver of Havertown, Pennsylvania. (A 1960’s cultural reference only old people will get, young people, you can google it.) I’ve always said that they make marriage look fun, in fact, they’re totally “adorbs!” (Younger generation cultural reference.) So, what does this have to do with crostini you ask? We’ll be serving these tasty hors d’ oeuvres at our upcoming gathering.
What I love about these appetizers is that they are the perfect “marriage” of different tastes and textures. Did you like the way I segued into that, huh. Anyway, you’ve got your crunch from the toasted bread and walnuts, paired with the saltiness of the prosciutto, the creaminess of the goat cheese and the sweetness of the fig and balsamic all in one perfect little bite. Actually, it’s probably two-bites, but who’s counting.
Fig & Prosciutto Crostini
- 12 fresh figs – Black Mission or Brown Turkey varieties
- 1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
- 1/2 cup baby arugula
- 1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped small
- 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- French baguette sliced into 24, 1/2″ slices
For the Balsamic Reduction: Pour the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar into a small but heavy saucepan and bring to a steady simmer. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, allow the mixture to simmer until it begins to thicken and become syrupy. Then, pour it into a small bowl and let it cool. Set aside.
Place the walnuts that have been chopped into small pieces into a small frying pan and over medium heat stir constantly until the nuts become fragrant and their natural oils are released. Keep your eye on them as they can burn quite quickly. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Snip the stem off of the figs, and then cut them in half. Slice the prosciutto into slices that will fit the size of the crostini. Slice the baguette into 24 – 1/2″ slices and place on a baking sheet. Once you’ve gathered all your ingredients together, place the bread slices into a 400 degree F oven and toast bread until it becomes golden on the edges. Then remove.
Top each bread slice with a piece of prosciutto, a piece of the arugula, a fig slice, then a few goat cheese crumbles and walnuts. Drizzle the crostini with the balsamic reduction and serve!
Makes 24 individual crostini
Have all your ingredients prepared and in little bowls so when the bread comes out of the oven, you can make the crostini assembly-line style and serve while the bread is still warm.
In case you were wondering, figs are an excellent source of dietary fiber. I eat them by the boatloads.
I know I haven’t posted a new recipe in awhile, but Mama took a little vacation. I’m funny when it comes to leaving home, and that’s why I hardly ever leave. I find the whole traveling process very stressful, especially when there’s airline travel involved. But, little did I know that a lovely little paradise existed 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.
A group of my friends (Cindy, Roberta, Wendy and Lauren) go to Catalina for a week every summer. I’ve been invited to go in the past, but I had envisioned Catalina to be nothing special, so I always declined. But for some reason my husband, and I and son #2 decided to give it a try. Well, Mama was pleasantly surprised. Actually more than just pleasantly.
Catalina is very easy to reach, no muss, no fuss. One hour on the Catalina Express and you arrive in Avalon Harbor. There’s very few cars on the island, and most people get around by golf cart. The city center is very quaint, and filled with small restaurants, shops, bars and markets. Nothing fancy mind you, but keep in mind this is a very low-key, stress-free vacation. But what wow-ed me the most was the island’s natural beauty. Sunshine every day, bright blue skies and water clear enough to see fish, dolphins and plenty of seals. And guess what…I can’t wait to go back.
My inspiration for this week’s recipe came from the Pacific Ocean. I find the visual, as well as the sound and smell of the ocean so relaxing. How better to pay homage to the Pacific than with a shrimp recipe of course!
Grilled Shrimp Kabobs
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- juice from 1/2 lime
- 2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (leave the tail shell on)
- 1 large green pepper, cut into 1″ pieces
- 1 large yellow onion cut into 1″ pieces
- fresh pineapple cut into 1″ chunks, or you can use a 15 ounce can of pineapple, with the juice drained
- Metal skewers, or wooden skewers soaked in water
- Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tail shell on. Rinse the shrimp under cold water then dry with a paper towel and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together all the ingredients, except the shrimp, vegetables and pineapple. Pour off 1/4 cup of the marinade, and reserve for basting the shrimp on the grill.
- Place the shrimp in a resealable plastic bag and pour the marinade in the bag, coating all the shrimp. Place the bag in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Take your skewers and thread the shrimp on the skewers, piercing the shrimp through the center, with both the front and tail portion going through the skewer. Thread on a piece of pineapple, then another shrimp, then the green pepper and onion. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Place the completed skewers on a metal baking sheet.
- Spray your grill with cooking spray so the shrimp won’t stick, and heat the grill to medium high.
- Place your skewers on the grill and baste with the remaining marinade. Turn the skewers so the shrimp cook evenly on each side. All grills are different, so cook the shrimp until they are pink on the outside. Be very careful not to overcook the shrimp as they will become rubbery. As soon as they are no longer opaque, they are done.
- Serve immediately from the grill.
If you’re going to use wooden skewers for these kabobs, soak them in water for an hour or two so that they won’t burn when you put them on the grill.
To devein the shrimp, run a pairing knife down the back of the shrimp. You will see the black vein. Using the tip of your knife, cut out the vein and discard.
Always spray your grill with a little cooking spray, or brush lightly with some olive oil so that the shrimp don’t stick to the grill.
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.
What could be more fun for a girl obsessed with strawberries, than the opportunity to spend the day frolicking in the fields of a strawberry farm in Oxnard, California! Yes, it’s true. I was invited by the California Strawberry Commission to tour a working strawberry farm along with a group of fellow foodbloggers. The farm is run by Bill Reiman who took us out into his fields and showed us how this gorgeous fruit is picked, processed and packed. As our group stood there in the warm California sun, Bill explained how environmentally conscious California strawberry farmers are, and how they have invested millions into research and sustainable farming practices. He went on to explain how 88% of the nation’s strawberries are grown in California, and that California has a 12 month growing season. So guess what, you can enjoy your strawberries 24/7!
The final highlight of the day was a strawberry-themed dinner prepared by Executive Chef Tim Kilcoyne. Our hosts had set up a white canopied tent that was surrounded by strawberries as far as the eye could see, and our backdrop was the Santa Monica Mountains. A Hollywood set designer couldn’t have done a better job. As if this wasn’t enough, each guest was sent home with a flat of sweet, California Strawberries. Yes, it was a most excellent adventure, and one I’ll never forget.
So what did I do with all those berries you ask…well, I turned them into ice cream of course.
Strawberry Ice Cream
Williams Sonoma “Ice Cream”
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup (185g) sugar
- pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups (250g) fresh California strawberries, stemmed and coarsely chopped, plus more for garnish
- In a large bowl, combine the cream and milk. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt and whisk the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the vanilla. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes so that the flavors begin to blend together. Cover and refrigerate the mixture until chilled, from 3-8 hours.
- In a medium bowl, using a fork, mash half of the chopped strawberries until they break down into small chunks, then add the remaining coarsely chopped strawberries to the bowl. Cover and refrigerate these strawberries for an hour.
- After an hour, pour the milk/cream mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When nearly frozen and the mixture looks like thick whipped cream, add the strawberries. Churn just until blended. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Freeze until firm, about three hours, or up to 3 days before serving.
Makes 1 1/2 quarts
Fun Strawberry Facts:
8 strawberries contain more vitamin C than an orange. They’re low in sugar, with only about 50 calories, and strawberries are a great source of fiber, folate and potassium. Yeah, so who else can make that claim!
Strawberries are good for your heart folks. Potassium found in strawberries can help control blood pressure and fight strokes. The antioxidants, fiber and phytochemicals in strawberries has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
California strawberry farmers use less than one percent of California’s cropland, but create nearly 10 percent of all California’s farm-related jobs. You go California farmers!
* Disclosure: This post is sponsored by The California Strawberry Commission. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.