A Trip with California Strawberries to Pismo Beach

California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table

A little over a week ago, I took a short trip down to Pismo Beach, in Central California that was sponsored by the California Strawberry Commission.  My flight was short and pleasant, you can't beat the short one hour direct flight from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo Airport, which is located about 15 minutes away from the Dolphin Bay Resort and Spa. The resort is gorgeous and my view was spectacular. The long ocean stretch, morning fog, flying pelicans, crabs hiding under rocks and the sound of crashing waves mixed in with surfers and dolphins playing in the ocean, I couldn't have asked for more except that perhaps, I might one day be able to live in a house overlooking a beautiful ocean view like this. Central California is one of the best places in the country to grow strawberries because of the weather and the soil and these berries are supplied to the rest of the country year round. 

California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table

This trip was all about the strawberries and yes, I got to pick and eat a lot (see the chocolate covered strawberries and creme brûlée below). The purpose of this trip was to learn about strawberry farming practice and the nutritional benefits behind strawberries and the trip was named 12 Reasons  (though there are many more reasons to keep strawberries in your diet). The inner science nerd in me was very excited when we spent some time learning about all the wonderful work being done by the commission and the Strawberry Research and Sustainability Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. They've been doing tons of research for a while such as growing better drought resistant and disease resistant strawberry plants (all non-GMO), creating and employing newer and more efficient methods to get rid of biological pests (natural predators and physical methods to get rid of bugs). California is suffering from a bad drought and it's important to use methods that conserve water and also use it efficiently, the farms are watered by a high-pressure drip system that uses less water to keep the crops growing. In addition to all this and this is something I really enjoyed hearing about, the Commission and the Center work together to train and certify the workers and managers at different farms in best farming and safety practices which gives them tools to become more competitive in the job market. 

California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table

One of the first farms we visited was at Providence Farms in Santa Monica which is run by Tom Jones and his wife, Ruth. There were patches of land being prepared for tilling where eventually strawberry beds would be set up. There were long rows of white plastic blanketed soil where young strawberry plants grew out of little cuts in the plastic sheet. The younger immature plants have their flowers removed until the plants grow to an appropriate size which ensures a better quality fruit and plant in the future. We got to walk through the fields and taste the fresh ripe strawberries at the farm and also watch some of the workers lace the plant beds with predatory bugs that would kill off the mites that destroy strawberry plants. Eventually, Providence Farms hopes to expand to somewhere around 600 acres of pure organic strawberry fields. As it is there are approximately, 32,600 plants per acre and 600 acres would be an insane happy heaven of strawberry land. 

California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table

From Providence Farms, we drove up to Presqu'ile Winery in Santa Maria where Italian Chef Alfonso Curti of Trattoria Uliveto had a a fun cooking demo and lunch spread set up for us. There was wine and strawberry flavored drinks and lots of delicious things to eat. The aged balsamic vinegar reduction with the fresh strawberries and basil over panna cotta was probably one of the most complex and refreshing desserts to eat on a hot summer day yet one of the most simple things to prepare. I fell in love with the interiors and exteriors at the vineyard, the aesthetic is simply gorgeous and the views breathtaking! Also how do they keep all their plants alive and so pretty? 

California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table

On the final part of our journey, we visited a strawberry farm in an urbanized setting, owned by Luis Chavez. His story is fascinating and inspiring, an immigrant from Mexico, Luis through hard work over many years, now owns and runs a 300 acre strawberry farm. He was kind enough to let us fill up a clam shell box with fresh strawberries we picked from his farm. The day we visited his farm, the farm workers were picking out strawberries that would eventually find their way into jams, jellies and sauces. The work isn't easy and the weather was hot but at each farm I visited, I felt the personal connection and interest the way both Tom Jones and Luis Chavez spoke with passion about their farms and the people that work for them. And that goes along way.

This was a trip that made me appreciate all the hard work and passion that goes into producing one strawberry and the enormous impact this simple plant has. I can't thank California Strawberries enough, for such a fun and informative opportunity to learn about strawberries and strawberry farming. 

California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table
California Strawberries at Pismo Beach | A Brown Table

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by California Strawberries and all opinions shared here are purely my own.

horchata cookie cereal bites

horchata cookie cereal bites | A Brown Table

Making cereal from scratch is fun! Here is my justification;

  • Flavor them in anyway you want
  • Spice it up however you want
  • Shape it big, small or tiny
  • Make cookie type cereal because then you can eat it with or without milk and then think of it as a breakfast cookie
  • You can play with the grains or nuts to make the base of the cereal

I guess what I'm trying to say is, making your own cereal gives you freedom to create whatever you want. 

Horchata is one of my favorite ways to stay cool in summer. It's a drink, I discovered after I moved to the United States and one that I will passionately drink whenever it gets hot. And now that Califia makes two different types of horchata, one with cinnamon and the other vanilla-coconut, I've been enjoying them often in the hot weather. The horchata also goes very well with these cereal cookie-type bites. The bites are packed tightly with rice, oat and nut flour and sweetened lightly with molasses and brown sugar. Plus a dash of cinnamon for that extra sweet flavor to go with that soft crumbly nutty texture.

These bites are a great breakfast item when served in a bowl of chilled horchata but also make a good snack as is, especially if you're on the go and short on time!  Just make a batch ahead of time and eat whenever needed (These guys are also gluten-free and vegan).

horchata cookie cereal bites | A Brown Table
horchata cookie cereal bites | A Brown Table
horchata cookie cereal bites | A Brown Table
horchata cookie cereal bites | A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips when preparing these horchata cookie cereal bites;

  • Use freshly ground spices and fresh flour when making this cereal.
  • The flavor will be fresh and it will also last much longer. I add cocoa powder here for a little color and to bump the cinnamon. Also, cocoa and horchata pair very well together, especially when this is served in a bowl with chilled horchata.
  • Some of you might like the cereal cookie bites to be smaller than the sizes I made. If you do decide to make them tiny, adjust the oven cooking time accordingly. You can shape the bites into tinier balls using a pastry bag with a large round tip to get a uniform size or even more simply, with your hands. The texture of these bites is a little soft and cakey inside yet sweet and nutty.
  • Califia makes two delicious varities of Horchata , an almond milk one and a coconut flavored one. Either works great in this recipe and even for serving the bites. Just serve the horchata chilled.

horchata cookie cereal bites | A Brown Table

horchata cookie cereal bites

yields: about 4 to 6 servings

ingredients

1 cup (134g/4.73o) oat flour

1/2 cup (61g/2.15o) cashew flour 

1/4 cup (35g/ 1.23o) rice flour 

4 tablespoons brown sugar (dark or light)

1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon (pinch) baking soda

1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

3 tablespoons molasses (dark or light)

3 tablespoons coconut oil, warmed to liquid state

80mL Califia horchata + extra for serving

1. Place a wire rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Line two baking sheets with a silicone mat and keep aside until ready.

2. In a large mixing bowl, place all the dry ingredients from the oat flour to the salt. Dry whisk to combine evenly. 

3. Add the molasses and coconut oil to the dry ingredients and stir with a silicone spatula. Now pour the horchata in a steady thin stream and using the spatula combine to form a ball of dough. Cover the bowl with cling film and allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

4. Grease your hands with a little extra coconut oil and shape the dough into either 0.5cm or 0.5 inch balls. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheets leaving about 2 centimeters of space between them. Bake one sheet at a time for about 15 to 17 minutes. The cereal bites will be ready when they are dry both outside and inside and are light brown (the easiest way to test this is to take one cereal bite and break it to see if the inside is dry). Allow the cereal to cool to room temperature completely before storing them in an airtight container. They will last about 2 weeks if stored correctly in a cool and dark place. Serve the cereal bites with horchata milk. 

 

Note: This post is sponsored by Califia and all opinions stated here are purely my own.

apple lemongrass sorbet with baked candied apple chips

apple lemongrass sorbet with baked candied apple chips | A Brown Table

I'm afraid of both the mandolins I own. I've nipped the tips of my fingers a few times in the past (even with the safety guard) and it's a painful and bloody experience where I end up wondering if my fingerprints will be permanently affected. So when I set out to make candied apple chips as the garnish for this post, I was extra careful. So careful, that I couldn't really get that perfect round apple slice. The safety guard really didn't help to hold the apple in place and I had to use my hands and went extra slow which then led to the mandolin slicing the apple at an angle. The mandolin is one of those tools I know I will always need to own to get that perfect thin slice but one that I know will demand a payment in kind. I should get a safety glove at some point. Anyway, fears and fingertips aside, this post is all about apples. 

The weather here has been very hot of late. The roof heats up by mid-afternoon and our living room becomes one big oven as it gets hit by the sun's rays. Snoopy stays in the bedroom where it's cool and windy and only emerges every now and then to eat, a pat or to go out. Consequently, the floor in the bedroom is strewn with puppy toys and tennis balls that I must clean up. To keep him entertained and cool, I make frozen homemade stock cubes but for me, last week, I made myself this fruit and lemony sorbet. An apple sorbet infused with lemongrass and topped off with candied apple chips. 

Except for the fear of slicing the apples, these candied chips are the easiest things to make and also the tastiest. The sweet crunch made me want to eat them all before I could use them to decorate the sorbet. Lemongrass gives a very gentle citrus note to the apple in both taste and fragrance. And on any sweltering hot day, I'd welcome this lemongrass infused apple sorbet because of the refreshing flavors to cool down with. 

apple lemongrass sorbet with baked candied apple chips | A Brown Table
apple lemongrass sorbet with baked candied apple chips | A Brown Table
apple lemongrass sorbet with baked candied apple chips | A Brown Table
apple lemongrass sorbet with baked candied apple chips | A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing this dessert;

  • The chips: be extra careful with the mandolin. As soon as the apple is sliced, you must work quickly to prevent browning by covering the slices in the sugar syrup. 
  • Work quickly when transferring the apple chips to the marble surface as once they cool down they will crack on the silicone mat if you try to peel them off. The have to be transferred hot so they are still pliable at that stage.
  • Use fresh lemongrass versus the dry kind, in my hands the flavor was very weak when I tested the dry variety.
  • Apple Juice: If you have a juicer by all means make your own. I recommend Golden Crisp apples or a 50%-50% mix of golden apple and granny smith apples. Otherwise a good quality store bought apple juice (100% apple juice) will work as well.

Here are some other sorbet recipes that you might enjoy:

apple lemongrass sorbet with baked candied apple chips | A Brown Table

apple and lemongrass sorbet

yields: around 4 cups of sorbet

ingredients

1 cup water

3/4 cup (5.29 ounces/150g)brown sugar

4 stalks fresh lemon grass, chopped

2 cups apple juice, fresh

2 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed and strained

1 tablespoon honey

1. Place the water, sugar and lemon grass in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring the contents to a boil on high-heat, then reduce to a gentle simmer and cover the saucepan with a lid. Allow to simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from stove and allow to cool. 

2. Strain the lemongrass syrup into a large mixing bowl using a strainer and discard the stalks. Stir in the apple juice, lemon juice and honey.  Place the syrup in a gallon ziplock bag and chill in an ice bath for about 30 minutes. 

3. Prepare the sorbet using the manufacturer's instructions for your ice cream maker. Transfer the sorbet when ready into a freezer-safe airtight container and allow to firm for at least 4 hours before serving. Garnish with the candied baked apple chips when serving. 

candied baked apple chips

yields: around 20 -30 slices (exact numbers will vary depending on the size of the apple and thickness used)

ingredients

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1 large granny smith apple 

a pinch of cream of tartar

1. Place the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and keep it simmering.

2. Using a mandolin, slice the apples into discs, as thin as possible. Place the apple slices in a small heat-proof pan or bowl. Quickly stir in the cream of tartar into the simmering hot sugar syrup and pour this liquid directly over the apples. Ensure that all the slices are submerged in the syrup. Allow to sit for at least 1 hour before baking or cover with a lid or clingfilm and store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

3. Place two wire racks in the center of the oven and preheat to 200F. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats (do not use parchment paper). Drain and reserve the liquid from the apple slices and place them in a single layer on the lined baking pans. Blot them with a parchment paper and place them in the oven for 2 hours. Working with one pan at a time, quickly peel the baked apple slices and transfer them onto a clean marble surface to cool. Transfer the cooled chips into an airtight container for storage. Use as needed.