For Jo’s birthday party this past weekend, Mom whipped up a yummy “salsa” with lots of fresh-from-the-garden goodness. It’s light, a little spicy, and easy to over-indulge on without feeling too bad about it later.

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Italian Salsa

6 fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

2 fresh cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced

1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped

4 fresh banana peppers, seeded and chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 can olives, sliced

1 can black beans, drained

1 can whole kernel corn, drained

1 package Good Seasons Italian Dressing, prepared

Combine all of the vegetables in a large bowl. Prepare the dressing per the directions, and pour over the mixture. Mix well and refrigerate. Serve chilled with tortilla chips.

Well, the baby Beagle that we rescued turned 2 over the weekend. She had a perfect day with her sister (Jackie), cousin (Honey), and her besties, the twins. Maw-Maw made her yummy apple-shaped cakes with vanilla icing, and we enjoyed a picnic in her honor Sunday night.

I tend to go above and beyond for my kids’ birthdays, but Jo’s are special. I know she probably doesn’t remember that first month of life spent eating from dumpsters and trash cans, but I’m trying my hardest to make sure she never does.

We love you, Jo Jo! Here’s to many more birthdays with you.

Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of potato salad. I think it was the yellow mustard that turned me off; but as I grew up, I found that the more you put into the mix, the better it is. Also, I found that Creole mustard is the only way to go with potato salad. Recently, we went to New Orleans and brought home a jar of Arnaud’s Creole mustard. YUM!

Potato Salad

2 pounds russet potatoes

2 pounds red-skin potatoes

4 eggs, boiled and mashed

1 ½ cup mayo

3 tablespoon Creole mustard

½ cup celery, chopped

1/2 cup bell pepper or banana pepper, chopped

½ cup sweet pickle relish

½ cup green olives, sliced

2 tablespoons green onion, chopped

Salt and pepper

Begin by boiling the potatoes in salted water until the skin begins to peel and they can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes and remove the skin.  Place in a large bowl with the boiled and mashed eggs, mayo, and mustard.  Mash all together leaving the potatoes chunky and well combined.  Fold in the celery, relish, olives, peppers, and green onions.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Let chill overnight before serving.

If the potato salad is dry the next day, add a hefty spoonful of mayo to the mix.

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So, I’ve got a new fascination — stove top popped corn. I know. This is how it was done before that thing called the microwave was invented; but for us “millennials”, microwave-style popcorn is about the only way to go unless you go to the movie theater, hardware store, or bank regularly for a bag of the real stuff.

It’s pretty fantastic since you get to control your butter and salt topping (or any topping for that matter). You are able to control the serving size to a degree. I still am working on what serving size works for me. Last time, I made too much; however, it does hold up well in a Ziplock in the pantry.

The kind I ordered is Mississippi grown and made, too. When I was visiting in the Delta, my friend Allie had a bag of “Crop to Pop” on the counter; and I was intrigued but didn’t think about it again. Then, my sister comes home from Mississippi Wholesale Market with the card for this “Crop to Pop” business. She said it was good, so I gave it an order. Give it a try if you like crunchy, sweet popcorn that you can feel good about popping on the stove. The directions are easy, but be sure to constantly shake the Dutch oven with the lid ON. Otherwise, you’ll be finding popcorn all over the kitchen for days. Those things fly everywhere!

I have yet to meet anyone who is not a fan of fried okra. Let’s be honest. It’s delicious and the best way to enjoy that violent little vegetable. The way my mom fries it up is the only way you should in my opinion. It’s the recipe my grandmother used; and more than likely, it’s the way her mother fried it, too. It’s crunchy without being fully coated in batter. It’s salty with just the right amount of sweet from the okra. It’s not sticky and slimy on the inside. It’s perfect.

The Only Way to Fry Okra

1 mess garden fresh okra, chopped

1 egg, beaten

Yellow cornmeal

Vegetable oil

Salt to taste

Once the okra is chopped into similar bite-sized pieces, salt to taste. Pour the beaten egg over the okra and mix. Cover the okra with cornmeal and toss until all is coated. Fry in batches in hot vegetable oil until crispy. Remove to a paper towel-lined platter.

Last week, while attending the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, a family friend was leaving the room to head back to the office and said, “Enjoy the Heat!” while dashing out into the humid June morning. I’d never heard it said quite like that. Most people say, “Stay cool” or “Don’t get too hot out there.” But putting this positive spin on an inescapable heat like the one we are having this summer seemed the only way to make it through. Well, that and a good sno-cone.

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I’ll be honest; I’m the first one to complain when I start to sweat. It’s just not for me. My hair isn’t a fan; I can’t stand the tacky feeling you get after you cool off; and to be honest, no one looks good wilted from sweating. Yesterday, on my way back from Baton Rouge, I stopped in St. Francisville to get some work done before heading back home. I got so hot getting in and out of the car several times in an hour and a half span that my knee caps were sweating. I’m used to sweating behind my knees and such, but for the actual top-of-the-knee cap to be perspiring seemed a bit much. When I saw the sign for “shaved ice snow cones” I did a U-ie in the middle of the road and dared anyone to stop me from getting to that counter and ordering up a clear strawberry concoction for the ride home.

So, enjoy the heat. It’s here to stay.

Have I mentioned that the tomatoes are coming in in droves at the Guido house? Every summer, we try to come up with a new way to enjoy those little boogers, and this past week we gave bruschetta another try. Our family friend, Nancy Kuehnle, told us about the bruschetta method she uses by toasting the bread with a layer of cheese before topping with tomatoes. So we gave it a try. Let me tell you. That’s the way to go. You don’t end up with the entire topping hanging off the toast on the first bite that way. It’s much easier to navigate and gives it a better taste, too.

 

Garden Fresh Bruschetta

6 – 8 large tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped

1 loaf fresh French bread, sliced

Olive oil

Parmesan cheese

Fresh basil, chiffonaded

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and finely chop the tomatoes. Allow to drain the excess juice in a colander while preparing the bread. Salt and pepper the tomatoes at this stage. Slice pieces of the loaf and brush both sides with olive oil. Top each slice with about a tablespoon of Parmesan and toast in a 350 degree oven until slightly crispy. Remove the bread from the oven, top with about 2 tablespoons of the tomatoes, dress with fresh basil, and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Run back into the oven until the cheese on top is melted. Serve warm.