Comfort Food is Food that warms the body and the soul. It makes you feel good and satisfied after eating it. I think Comfort Food is different for different cultures and different people but there are variations within the dishes that we call ‘Comfort Food’. The differences are not so much in the main ingredients but in the preparation techniques and the seasonings used. Here is another great Comfort Food that really warms you inside – Vegetable Soup – it can be served as a complete meal with the addition of some protein and delicious fresh bread. It can also be served as a first course and the leftovers are great for lunch.
I love to make Vegetable and it is one of my favorite ways of cleaning out the Vegetable in my refrigerator. If you have ever wondered what you are going to do with all those vegetables that you just can’t seem to getting around to use or even if like I do, you have little bits and little bits of that, Vegetable Soup is the perfect vehicle for using up those items. So when I taught school, I taught my students how to make ‘Clean Out the Refrigerator’ Vegetable Soup.
What you will need is a large pot and some Olive Oil and whatever you can forage from your refrigerator. If you don’t have items in your refrigerator that you can use, you can always visit your local Farmer’s Market or Grocery Store to pick up whatever you wish to put in your soup. For the last batch I made, I used Onions, (a must), Celery, Carrots, Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Tomato Paste, Frozen Peas and Corn. For the batch before this one I used a Sweet Potato and Spinach. Visit vegetable-soup for the complete recipe.
Saute your Vegetables (starting with the Onion and Mushrooms) in Olive Oil. I always salt the Mushrooms as they do need and it helps to leech out some of the water in their pores. Once they have cooked and started caramelizing add the remaining fresh Vegetables and dried herbs. For the liquid I use either de-fatted Turkey, Chicken or Beef Broth, depending on what is in my freezer. Vegetable Soup does not need to cook for a long time – you do not want really mush vegetables. It is much better to have some texture left to bite into. About 10 minutes before serving bring the soup up to boiling and add about 1 cup uncooked Pasta. Once the Pasta is ‘al dente’ add fresh Herbs (in this case two kinds of Basil), and frozen Peas and/or Corn if you are going to use them. A couple of minutes is all you need for these frozen Vegetables.
To make a complete meal out of your Vegetable Soup, add some Protein such as Tofu (for Vegans), Chicken, Sliced Hot Dogs or Sausage or Turkey. Any one of the above make a great addition to your soup which is also delicious without it. Just serve it with some Hot Fresh Bread.
Saturday Morning Farmer’s Markets abound in Southern California. Within the distance of approximately 33 miles, extending from the city of Ventura to Calabassas (at the far Western end of the San Fernando Valley) there are 4 markets that I know of: Ventura, Camarillo Old Town, Newbury Park and Calabassas. You can go further South and find quite a few more but of course, it would be difficult to attend all of them in one day. On my foray to Calabassas I also went to Newbury Park and could have hit Camarillo if I had so desired. The market is across the street from the most prominent and probably well-known business in Camarillo and that would be the Sage Brush Cantina. The Cantina opened years ago in a one store front location and soon took over the properties next to it, so that now the whole block (where there used to be a bakery and other businesses) is now all Sage Brush Cantina and their parking lot. It has become a gathering for locals and out of towners as well.
The Calabassas Market is probably the most diverse and exciting of the one that I previously mentioned. The time slot is from 9 in the morning until 1 in the afternoon. You can buy produce, flowers, artisan bread products and foods ready-made to eat on the spot.
The first thing when you walk into the market is a sign for Valet Parking and an attendant to manage it. The fee is only $3.00 which is the same that the parking lot across the street charges. There is very little street parking in Calabassas and since the Market is well-attended the lot or Valet Parking is well worth it. An alternative is to park in the shopping center on Valley Circle – it is about a one block walk but if you are carrying market produce it can be a little tireing.
There are many flower vendors and they are the ones that are most prominent in the front of the market. This is not to say there are no produce vendors there – there are plenty but the flowers are so colorful and beautiful that they do stand out. If you are planning on purchasing flowers as well as produce wait until you are finished and almost ready to leave – that way your flowers will have stayed fresh in water until you pick them and take them home. If you carry them around the market there is a strong possibility that they will start to wilt, especially if it is a hot day.
There are many produce vendors but one of my favorite has produce similar to Underwoods in Camarillo in that they have those beautiful heads of Purple and Gold Cauliflower along with Romesco which is shaped like a castle with little turrets.
One of the ways in which I like to use the Cauliflower is to prepare it with a Cheese Sauce – the simplest Cheese Sauce that you will ever make. Simply shred as much Medium or Sharp Cheddar Cheese and combine it with enough Mayonnaise to make a spreadable mixture. Place the washed Cauliflower in a microwavable dish and spread the Mayo/Cheese mixture all over it. Microwave for approximately five minutes or until the Cauliflower is fork tender.
I love Mushrooms and one of the Vendors has a great variety of Mushrooms and they are locally (in the Conejo Valley just West of Calabassas) raised. Mushrooms grow best in the dark and not exactly knowing I asked the Vendor where he grew them – in a Greenhouse? The answer was no – he actually grows most of them in a warehouse building – probably in raised beds or flats. You could purchase one type of mushroom or a variety pack of different sizes and different prices. I couldn’t resist and did buy a $15 pack which did last me for several meals.
Also at the market were Citrus Vendors, Vegetable Vendors, Egg Vendors, Hot Sauce Vendors and many more. I am pictured below at the booth of a vendor from Central California – at this point in the day (about 1 hours before closing) his products were marked down to 3 for $5.00. An excellent and everything I purchase from his was of excellent quality.
This next vendor sells Cucumbers, Tomatoes and Beans at both the Calabassas Market and the Market in Thousand Oaks on Thursday afternoon. When I visit these markets her stand is always one that I stop at. The Cucumbers are of the Japanese variety and do not need to be peeled. They are always sweet and crisp and delicious.
One of the Vendors at the Calabassas Market was not selling produce but instead he had Pasta and Olives – the booth was called Zona de Italy. Lots of interesting pasta and delicious Olives of various varieties.
So take a trip out to Calabassas and check out their produce, flowers, pasta, etc.
There are numerous Farmer’s Markets in Ventura County – on Saturday alone there are four different markets all within driving distance of each other. Starting in Ventura, you have a medium size Market on the corner of Santa Clara and Palm Streets. (See my previous post in January of this year)
Another local Saturday Market in Ventura County is the one in ‘Old Town Camarillo’. This one is different from the other markets available in that it is sponsored by the Camarillo Hospice and a portion of all sales goes to this cause. The Camarillo Market is a Certified Market and is probably the largest one in the County, maybe only equal in size to the Thousand Oaks Market.
At the Camarillo Market you will find produce vendors, flower vendors and food product vendors. There is also a booth for Kettle Corn, Tamales, and Coffee. You can buy Olive Oil, Hummus and Flat Breads, and best of all, ‘Old Boney Mountain’ Hot Sauces and Grotto Dust. The Old Boney Products are produced by Jeff Losey who own the company and has named it for ‘Old Boney Mountain’ which can be found in the National Recreation Area in Newbury Park and which also can be seen from his property.
My favorite produce vendor is Underwood farms which also goes to the Thousand Oaks Market. If you miss a market day and need fresh produce, you can also go straight to the Underwood Farms in Somis and/or Moorpark, both of which are in Ventura County.
Shown below are some unusual varieties of well-known Vegetables. The Romanesco is a form of Broccoli but is certainly much more fun. Since it almost looks like a Castle, I have used in Children’s Cooing Classes when there was a ‘Kingdom’ Theme involved. Next is my favorite type of Cauliflower – Purple and Yellow or Golden. It is probably just my imagination but I do think the colored Cauliflower, especially the yellow one has more flavor than the white. This may be true because there certainly has to be more Carotene in the yellow variety and carotene does provide flavor.
Next is the Purple and Green Cabbage which is not unusual in itself, but these are so fresh and so beautiful that you cannot help purchasing them and running home to use them.
Another produce vendor that you will want to stop at is the Tomato Booth from Beylik Farms. They have Orange Tomatoes, Red Plum Tomatoes and Japanese Tomatoes. The winter variety are grown in Green Houses, but they taste as good as if they were grown outdoors.
In addition to Underwood and Beylik Farms there are numerous other Produce Vendors. There are also booths selling artisan Greens such as Kale and other Greens. One of the offerings that I love is the booth that sells Sprouts of different varieties. I especially like the Sunflower Sprouts which are great on sandwiches and in salads. Then we have the fruit vendors, selling Apples, Oranges and other Citrus fruit in addition to Strawberries (fresh picked the same day as being sold from local fields.
One of my favorite vendors is ‘Old Boney Mountain Hot Sauce Products’. Jeff Losey, who is the owner and CEO of the Company donates his profits to organizations such as the Camarillo Hospice, Wounded Warrior and Newbury Park High School Football Team. Old Boney Products are named after ‘Old Boney Mountain’ in the National Recreation Area in the Santa Monica Mountains located in Newbury Park. Jeff and his family can view Old Boney Mountain from their home where the Peppers are also grown.
There are also at least two flower vendors – one sells live plants (this particular vendor goes both to the Camarillo Market and the Thousand Oaks Market. Every Fall right before Thanksgiving, I buy my Pansy Plants from them. The price is right and the plants are beautiful. (Living in Southern California with hot summers, the Pansies do not survive beyond late Spring, so I have to replant them every year. In addition to the Pansies, they also sell Orchid Plants and other shade plants. *** There are other vendors selling cut flowers to take home to enjoy.
Last, but not least, are the prepared food vendors. One sells freshly baked Artisan Bread Products. Normally I will make my own Challah and other Egg Breads but this past Saturday I had not had the time to do so and wanted to make French for Breakfast on Sunday so I purchase a Brioche from this vendor. It was very expensive ($10.00) and cost about 5 times what it would cost me to make it (not counting my time) but it was well worth it. It was delicious and made not only great French Toast but excellent sandwiches as well.
Another Vendor sells Tamales, another sells different varieties of Hummus and Flat Breads and of course Kettle Korn. If these aren’t enough, there are also booths selling handmade crafts, such as jewelry, shell items, wood items, etc.
Take a trip out here next Saturday (or whenever you happen to be in town) and enjoy the wares at the Old Town Camarillo Farmer’s Market.