Pico De Gallo

 

Living in Southern California there is one condiment I crave, I especially crave it during the summer when the tomatoes are fresh and plentiful. That treat is Pico De Gallo or Salsa Fresca, the fresh chopped tomatoes, crisp chopped white onions, jalapeño chili’s, fresh squeezed lime juice, a good handful of chopped cilantro and a touch of salt and pepper. Bring on the margaritas and a big bowl of fresh made tortilla chips, this has to be my favorite summer meal. Yes, a big bowl of pico de gallo some chips a margarita and a book will happily satisfy me.

When I make my homemade salsa I always try to choose my home grown beefsteak tomatoes. Their thick and dense flesh can hold up to the other layers of ingredients with out breaking down into a mushy pulp. From time to time I do experiment and so far the other tomato varieties I have tried are: Brandy Boy, Celebrity, Super tasty, Sweet Seedless and my second favorite next to Beefsteak is Early Girl. That tomato is a touch on the sweet side and when you are using a good amount of Chili in your salsa that sweet can help cut the heat.

 

I remember watching an episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats TV show that was all about the Scoville scale and how it is used to measure heat in chili peppers or spicy food. Sit back and be amazed; a sweet bell pepper is measured in at 0, jalapeño at 8,000 and the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion registers at 2,000,000. YES!!! 2,000,000 you read that correctly. However, according to The Guinness Book of World Records in 2012 the Carolina Reaper measured in at 2,200,000. Back to Alton Brown, he tested all sorts of cool your mouth down aids such as;  water, chips, bread, corn and beer- ALL FAILED! The two that did not fail were a glass of milk and a glass of sugar water, now the next time you want to tempt your taste buds into a fiery rage or put your body into a bit of gastronomical hell ask for a glass of water and add 3 sugar packets to it and give it a good stir, then ask for a glass of milk too, you will need it. But there is a secret when you drink the milk DONT SWALLOW, just spit the milk out. The fat in the milk will carry a good portion of the oil from the chili thats now imbedded in your tongue away.  The sugar water, drink after the milk it will help the residual burn.

Here is a word of caution about fresh made salsas I am sorry to say, but between 1998 and 2008 the reports of food born illness rocketed and unfortunately, fresh made salsa was to blame. You need to keep this condiment cold so what ever bowl you are serving it in have another bowl under it with some ice and always throw out any that has been left in the bowl, its contaminated, throw it away please. Remember the potato salad sitting in the sun food sick story? Guess what it was not necessarily the mayonnaise- it was the onions and potatoes sitting there with their sponge like broken cell walls collecting air born bacteria and happily growing it in the mayonnaise because that salad was not kept on ice to stay in the safe food temperature zone. Lesson one and always #1 keep onions covered and cold all times once you have sliced them. Don’t believe me ask Mr. Google about the medicinal qualities of onions and how they have been used over the centuries to pull bacteria from wounds.

 

Ok science side done back to the flavors of salsa fresca. In the past I was nothing but a purest; tomato, pepper, onion, cilantro, lime juice, S&P. However with age, time and creativity I have added ingredients such as; mangos, avocados, peaches, cucumbers, roasted corn, zucchini, mint leaves, basil leaves, shrimp, blueberries and the list goes on and on. This salsa is exactly what you add to your guacamole recipe, or grill up a batch of tequila-lime chicken then top this salsa over it and garnish with cilantro. Add it to a pot of fresh made white rice; add it to your Mexican lasagna or keep it traditional with a bowl of good quality tortilla chips. However you choose to enjoy fresh homemade pico de gallo salsa remember to keep it cold and if you can grow a few salsa tomatoes in your garden this season please let me know what you used your tomatoes for. I’m off to make a batch of salsa I’ve gotten very hungry all of a sudden and I just picked a few lovely bright red tomatoes from my garden this morning, take care.

Cheers!

Pico De Gallo

3-4 pounds tomatoes, large or small heirloom or not, use what you like

1/2 of a small red or white onion, chopped into very small pieces

1 small jalapeño pepper chopped, or more depending on heat preference

1 large handful of chopped cilantro

1/2 of a lemon juiced or ½ a lime juiced

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Roughly chop tomatoes, onions, and jalapeño peppers.
  2. Add all ingredients to the food processor.
  3. Pulse until desired consistency.

Keep the bowl with the salsa in it on ice, serve with fresh corn or flour tortilla chips, enjoy.

A Farmers Market Visit

Farmers MarketLast weekend I visited my local farmers market. I needed to stock up on a few items and I wanted to see and share with you what was in season. I live in a small beach side community about one hour north of Los Angeles. Our area is known for its rich top soil and long standing farming families, some of which I am lucky enough to be related to. These men and women work tirelessly day in and day out to feed our community, as well as working with distributors to ship our County’s bounty all over the United Stated and the World. 

Oxnard, California Strawberries

Strawberries grown on the Oxnard plain make the long journey to Japan, South Africa and even Russia.

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 Citrus grown in Santa Paula, Piru, Ventura, Oxnard and Ojai become treasured sunshine jewels to those in Alaska, Canada and even England.

Beets, Underwood Farms

Root vegetables grown in Camarillo, Ojai and Somis sometimes grace the plates presented by famous chefs at the Oscar after parties, Governors Balls and even meals served at the  White House.

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Flowers from the Ventura County fields and green houses find their way as part of the New Years Day Celebration on floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade held in Pasadena, California.

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Sometimes the season is truly giving with crops of artichoke from Somis, Ojai and Moorpark. But usually we receive our artichoke crop from the Monterey County area.

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I hope these photographs inspire you to get out tomorrow and visit a farmers market or farm stand near your area. Go meet the farmers, taste their food and better yet buy their food. Help keep farmers farming! This profession is a treasured way of life that is in trouble due to lack of water in some areas, restrictions and regulations and the growing number of imported fruits and vegetables .

IMG_6971I don’t know a farmer around that does not like a thank you, in fact they love it. All a farmer truly wants is good weather, water, a market to sell his or her product to and some simple thanks for all their hard work; especially the hard work of their farm hands and managers that make their profession and way of life possible. Have yourself a wonderful weekend, I hope the sun is shining and the temperatures are not too hot for you. I would love to hear about why your area Farmers Market is special, I’m always up for a road trip you never know where I might show up next.

Cheers!

Citrus and Fennel Salad

Ingredients
  1. Salad
  2. 2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced, fronds saved for garnish
  3. 2 oranges; blood orange, Valencia orange or navel orange
  4. 2 tangerines; murcotts, Dancy, golden nugget or Yosemite
  5. 1 shallot minced
  6. zest of one lemon
  7. zest of one orange
  8. 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves
  9. Salad Dressing
  10. 4 tablespoons of olive oil or citrus infused olive oil
  11. 2 tablespoons of citrus vinegar, champagne vinegar, pineapple vinegar or pear vinegar
  12. Salt and Pepper to taste
  13. juice from 1 lemon
Instructions
  1. Place the thinly sliced fennel in a large bowl along with the oranges, tangerines, shallots, zest and fresh thyme. In a mason jar or small bowl add all the dressing ingredients and shake or mix well, pour dressing over the salad and toss gently. Arrange on a platter and garnish with the fennel fronds.
Notes
  1. Serve with a very cold, crisp Viognier wine or sparkling water with citrus slices.

Salty Dog

 

On Sunday I spent a few hours in my garden getting the next round of late summer early fall seedlings planted. What I added to the raised to beds were pole beans, kale, beets, squash, herbs and spinach. The weather was gorgeous, high 70’s lots of sun, no humidity, a cool breeze and no fog which in Ventura, California summer is usually known for fog, lots of fog. I came into my kitchen to make lunch and there they were three picture perfect grapefruit just screaming  “Make me into a cocktail!”

 

A few weeks back a group of girlfriends and I ate brunch at Azu Restaurant in Ojai, California. I ordered the salmon cake eggs Benedict that had a meyer lemon hollandaise sauce- if you are ever near Ojai I highly suggest this restaurant for brunch, the outdoor covered patio is tranquil with its large urn water feature, shaded peaceful nook areas and lovely crisp white tablecloths and simple floral centerpieces. Elizabeth, one of the owners at Azu is a friend of mine, she suggested that I order a salty dog with my brunch choice. What was in it exactly I had to ask?  Well, it has fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, gin or vodka and a salted rim. With a smile on my face I told Elizabeth yes, please I will take one! That cocktail complimented the briny and perfectly seasoned salmon cake and the tart yet sweet grapefruit juice matched the creamy meyer lemon citrus hollandaise.

 

So remembering all the flavors from that brunch, I sliced up a few Snow White tomatoes from my garden then tore a few pieces of fresh mozzarella and dressed it with a home made reduced Modena balsamic vinegar that I had infused with rosemary and garlic. I juiced the grapefruits and added it to my glass that was packed with ice and had a perfectly salted rim, then I added a good splash of Deaths Door Gin. The tart, salty and sweet grapefruit juice added a deeper layer to the sweet fruity flavor of my small cherry sized yellow tomatoes that were still warm from the sun. But the big surprise was how well the cocktail and the reduced vinegar worked with each other, the rosemary and the tartness of the vinegar blended and complimented maybe even enriched the juniper berry, coriander and fennel in the gin. Next time you are at the store pick up a few star ruby or ruby red grapefruit, salt your glass and squeeze the juice over crushed ice then add a good quality vodka such as Grey Goose or a good quality gin like Death’s Door Gin. Welcome in summer and enjoy sitting in the shade of your backyard or garden while eating a fresh tomato salad, you can not go wrong.

Cheers!

Fresh Made Salty Dog

Ingredients
1.    2 ounces of gin or vodka
2.    4 ounces of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
3.    kosher salt with a bit of grapefruit zest mixed in
4.    Collins glass
5.    ice

Instructions
1.    You will need a Collins glass, and slightly wet the rim. In a small saucer or bowl place the kosher salt and grapefruit zest in it and mix well. Take your glass and roll the wet lip of the glass in the salt mixture until it is well coated, shake off the excess salt. Fill glass with ice and add vodka or gin and grapefruit juice, with a spoon give it a gentle mix and serve.

A Comforting Bowl of Red Beans

Red Beans      My husband has a folder in his mind titled “Kate comfort food.” My red beans recipe is in the top 10, maybe top five. Simple yet flavorful food can bring comfort to a stress filled day or warmth on a cold night. Yes, it does get cold in Southern California- I promise. I have discovered a secret in the preparation and cooking process of red beans, let’s say it lessens the tummy issues and I’ll leave it at that. The secret is the overnight soaking water and the first boil. It is nontraditional-but it works ** see recipe.

My earliest memories of red beans were with my Poppa, Charles Mathson Slaton he was born in Macon, Georgia in 1918 truly an amazing and talented man who I miss dearly. We would go to a small diner where he would order us a bowl of RBR with a side of cornbread. I would get this giggle and laugh going and then my mouth would start puckering due to the heat of the Andouille sausage_ it’s flavorful spices and smoke honestly was and still is my favorite part.

Charles "Chuck" Slaton, my Grandfather.
Charles “Chuck” Slaton, my Grandfather.

 The vegetables in this dish are not many- simply green bell pepper, onion and celery-always referred to as-the Trinity. Poppa would say “Bug” (ref #1) the way to a man’s heart is in these three here vegetables and he pulled a few of them out of the bowl and onto a plate: green bell pepper, onion and celery. “If you use these in your food you will find a good man.” Guess what, in all my years of making red beans I never made them for someone that I was dating, I have only made them for my husband. Poppa was correct.

 The first time I made my red beans and rice for my soon-to-be husband he was going through particularly tough time. He had just lost his father to cancer; and, he was back from his deployment in Iraq. Steve was in a lost spot and honestly I did not know what to do. Then I remembered feeding helps those who need comfort. Off to the store I went to get: smoked ham hocks, spicy sausage, red beans and the trinity. Overnight the beans soaked becoming plump and full, in the morning out came my two tried-and-true, battered and banged up orange colored Le Creuset French Oven. The first French oven had the beans simmering away,  the second was used to sauté the remaining ingredients. The sweet smell of onion, thyme, bay leaf and garlic started to wrap their fragrant hands around him-coaxing him to ask what was I making. “It’s red beans, it’ll make you feel better, I promise.”

 Soon the smoky ham hocks were added and the spicy sausage, by then Steve had moved into the kitchen with me, watching what I was doing quietly sitting there reading his book being comforted by the smells of simple, good food. The beans were added to the sautéed vegetables along with chicken stock, the lid was placed on and the French oven then I slid it to a back burner for its low heat simmer.  The pot for the rice was on the stove gently bubbling away. Next the oven was set to 400°F; and, my 60 + year-old Lodge cast-iron 10″ inch skillet was placed in that oven to heat up with a good tablespoon of bacon drippings. Just when the cast iron and bacon fat was good and hot I took it out of the oven and poured my sweet cornbread batter into the pan, its like a sizzling kiss of love that hot bacon fat makes the perfect crisp outer crust to any corn bread recipe.

 It’s now 10 years later and I look back on that dinner, I remember seeing a moment of peace, comfort and healing. I don’t know why but somewhere in the soaking, boiling, simmering, stirring and tending to,  love was so gently infused into that meal. Still to this day his face softens, his shoulders relax and his smile returns whenever he smells my red beans slowly cooking away on our stove.  I hope you find comfort in this recipe I also hope you giggle a bit at the spice it has too.

 Cheers!

Poppa’s Red Beans

Ingredients
  1. 1lb dried red kidney beans
  2. 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  3. 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
  4. 5 cloves of garlic crushed
  5. 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  6. 2 medium sized ham hocks
  7. 1- 1 ½ pounds Andouille sausage, cut into rounds
  8. 3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
  9. 2 bay leaves
  10. 2 cups stock (chicken, pork or vegetable)
  11. 4 cups water
  12. Creole seasoning to taste
  13. salt and pepper to taste
  14. 2 tablespoons grape seed oil
  15. 1 tsp baking soda *
Instructions
  1. Sort and rinse your kidney beans then add to a large pot or bowl, fill with enough cool water to have at least 2” space between the beans and the top line of the water. * tummy helper #1 add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the water mix around and leave to soak overnight. At least 12 hours.
  2. After overnight soak drain and rinse the beans very well. Place beans in a French oven or large pot and cover with cool water. Place the pot on the stove and use a low flame to simmer the beans. About 1 hour.
  3. While the beans are half way through their simmer in your second pot add your oil and heat the pot on medium. When the oil glistens or has that heat ripple look, sauté the onions and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the celery and bell pepper, about about 5 minutes then add the thyme, bay leaves, ham hocks, sausage 4 cups water and 2 cups stock. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer.
  4. Drain your tender beans and rinse very well * secret #2. Add beans to the simmering pot and slowly cook for 2 to 3 hours. At the 2-hour mark check the beans to see if they are soft and creamy then taste, add your creole seasoning and any salt and pepper that is needed.
  5. Serve over a bowl of light and fluffy white rice and enjoy or simply on their own.

Reference #1 my full name is Kathleen but I was called Katie as a young girl and “Katie Bug” was my nickname; but, my Poppa called me bug for short.

Happy Independence Day 2014!

Happy Independence Day! On this amazing day our country adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 and declared its independent from British Rule.

 I believe in celebrating this Holiday weather it is with friends, family, volunteering at a shelter or offering comfort at a Veterans center. This day has a special meaning to everyone that is a United States Citizen, it is our day to be proud, joyous and have a grand party! I was asked by a friend on our Facebook page to choose my top 5 Independence Day Memories, here they are and thank you Lisa for the question.

1. Months after my Spring trip to Washington D.C. with my 8th grade U.S. History class it was the 4th of July 1999, I closed my eyes and I was transported back to standing in front of the Declaration of Independence with my 40+ class members. I looked at a time warn and faded document that stated-

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Mr. Jerry Mittelholtz was my U.S. History teacher at Anacapa Middle School in Ventura, California. He was so passionate about history he wanted us to live it, breath it and see it first hand when we were there in D.C. My curiosity and love of History truly came from him and if I had the chance, I would tell him “thank you  for your lessons and love of teaching, you opened my eyes Mr. Mittelholts.”

2. Lake Cachuma, in Santa Barbara County California camping with my Grandparents. This was what Independence Day was with them: camping, fishing, tall tale telling, sleeping outdoors, walks around the lake and running around all covered in dirt throwing water balloons and getting bandaged up from all the trips, falls and crashed we took. We (the grandkids) loved every second of it. My Grandfather (Chuck his Holiday Rambler name) would pitch a huge screened in tent and inside that tent our cots, sleeping bags and lanterns would be lovingly put in order. When all of us kids were finally asleep, he would place apples all over the trees just outside of our tent so that in the morning when we woke up, deer were all around us eating those apples, it was magical.

Charles "Chuck" Slaton, my Grandfather.
Charles “Chuck” Slaton, my Grandfather.

3. A small town 4th of July parade in Ojai California when I was growing up. All of us kids would be on floats or on our horses riding down Main Street waving, cheering, laughing or crying (it would be over 105 degrees). But, I think my favorite year was the year of great pony escape. There were about 12 of us and our horses all set to line up and start the parade. Well, one of the poor Jr riders pony got spooked and like a bat out of hell that pony took off with the poor screaming and crying 7 year old stuck in that tiny saddle. We all shot off after her, the whoops and hollers we got from the crowds as be barreled down the road made us feel like we were racing down a calf at the rodeo. Needless to say we caught her along with that pony thankfully with the help of the team-roping club. Oh my gosh that was a 4th of July!

4. My Mom, this woman would prep for days making cakes, cookies, salads and then all the BBQ sauces, prepped the ribs, burgers, hot dogs and flank steaks for over 30+ friends and family members that would come to relax and enjoy the holiday with us. It was just another day for Helen with loved ones, food, laughs and memories, she lived for it.

5. My husband, my son both of my Grandfathers and countless family members that at one time wore or are still currently wearing the uniform of a service member in the Military. Last year was the first with out our Son around our home he was training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma with the Army poor child he had Toby Keith entertaining him, not my BBQ or his silly brother and sister. I remember my first Independence Day celebration as a Military wife- talk about pride! I went to the PX on base a few days before the 4th and purchased all of our food and decorations, I was lucky enough to watch the families who had their loved ones back home from a deployment. The busses rolled in and the signs and flags were waving the wives were crying the kids just wanted to see their dads. It was a Seabee construction battalion back from Iraq, I think I cried buckets that day I was so happy for them, it was priceless.

This holiday to me is about the gathering, celebrating, reflection, fireworks and food. It’s the one day all of us citizens smile a little bigger because our Country puts another candle on her birthday cake this year there are 238. Her present to us is the same ever year and it’s never to be taken for granted, we are given the gift of – freedom. We have 56 men and their signatures on a Declaration to thank for this gift. I also wish to offer this statement, to our Men and Women in uniform…past, present and future God bless you…and thank you for protecting our Independence.

Cheers!

Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients
  1. 1 ½ cups whipping cream
  2. 1 cup whole milk
  3. ½ cup half and half
  4. 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  5. 4 egg yolks
  6. 1 whole vanilla bean
  7. Pinch of salt
  8. Optional: 1 cup chopped fresh fruit, ½ cup chocolate chips, 2 tablespoon fresh herbs, ½ cup jam or jelly, ½ teaspoon flavoring of your choice.
Instructions
  1. Combine all three milks, sugar, and the pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Split and scrape the vanilla bean place it in the pot too. Heat over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is warmed through, do not boil just tiny little bubbles should form around the pans edge. Remove the pan from the heat.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth and pale in color. Slowly pour 1 cup of the warm milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly this will temper the egg yolks so you won’t have scrambled eggs. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly and making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon (about 170 F). Pour the ice cream base through the mesh strainer into the bowl; place vanilla pod back into the strained base, let the custard cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate until completely chilled (24 hours). Remove the vanilla bean before churning, add optional ingredients if wanted then follow the manufacturing directions of your ice cream maker and enjoy.

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