Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber & Radish Salsa

Living in LA makes one prone to taco cravings.

There are taco trucks in every corner of the town. There are street tacos in grocery stores. There are tacos on the menus at even the really fancy restaurants.

Tacos are engrained in the Los Angeles food culture. They come in traditional styles from every nook and cranny of Mexico. They come in Korean flavors if that’s what you’re looking for.

Tacos in LA ain’t no joke.

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The taco craving hits me often, but the trucks are typically a after-the-sun-goes-down type affair. That might be why I’ve started keeping a 100 pack of tiny tortillas in my fridge at all times. And why I’ve started getting creative with putting anything that’s in my fridge into a shell.

Why be boring with your tacos? Shrimp, lamb, crab, black beans, even scrambled eggs. If you’re craving a taco, look in your fridge and put your own damn spin on a taco. Make it yours.

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

Most importantly, scarf them down like you were standing in a gas station parking lot under the street lights, surrounded by people who had just spilled out of the bars. People who have just gotten off of working the late shift (usually us). People who are just scraping together the few dollars for a meal. And people who know so little Spanish that they panic and just order three chicken tacos.

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The tacos I crave at home are different from the meaty, porky, fatty tacos I love from the late night trucks. At home, I usually go for something lighter, something with more crunchy, fresh, seasonal ingredients. I’ll sauté up some shrimp or sear some fish I’ve rubbed with cayenne, cumin, and whatever other spices I’ve found in the cabinet. This time I had a bit of leftover tilapia. Light, mild, flaky fish that’s easy to season and cook up in a cast iron pan.

Hit with a sweet and tangy splash of orange juice in the pan, topped with crunchy, earthy and somewhat peppery radishes and cucumbers, and seasoned with mint and cilantro.

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The Key of Kels Makes Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber Radish Salsa

The way I see it – homemade or eaten out in the Los Angeles wild – the more late night tiny tacos, the better.

xoxo

kels

Tilapia Tacos with Cucumber & Radish Salsa

Tilapia (or other white fish) filet
Cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, cinnamon
Olive Oil
Orange Juice
Cucumber
Radish
Mint & Cilantro
2 cloves garlic
Lime Juice
Tortilla Shells

For the salsa: Thinly slice radishes and cucumbers into consistent sized pieces. I used a mandolin to slice them thin, then cut them up into a salsa all together with my knife. Add a small handful of chopped mint and cilantro, minced garlic, and the juice from half of a lime. Season with salt and pepper.

For the fish: Generously season the fish with salt, coriander and cumin, and then with a dash of cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat until hot, then add olive oil. When the oil gets shiny and hot, gently add the fish to the pan, laying it starting closest to you to avoid splattering. Cook for about 5 minutes on one side, until well seared and crispy. Then use a fish spatula to flip. Add a splash of orange juice to the pan to get up all of the stuck-on bits and create a bit of a sauce. Cook an additional 4-5 minutes or until cooked through and flaky. Pull apart fish into pieces with a fork.

For the tacos: If you have a gas stove, turn on a burner and heat tortillas directly on the flames – usually about 30 seconds on each side, or just until they start to char and smoke (not burn!). Pile your tortilla high with pieces of fish, then top with salsa, another squeeze of lime, and your favorite hot sauce. Eat them off of a paper plate out in the street for the full effect.

Spring Snap Pea Salad with Burrata, Prosciutto & Mint

As children, you learn of peas’ reputation early on. They’re mushy. They’re a weird pale shade of green. They’re what the adults try to feed the children to torture them. Do not eat them. Peas are the enemy.

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

When peas were on the dinner table, I remember my sister putting up a fight. Even I, the one who loved fruits and vegetables, would often push them back and forth on my plate. Adults got creative, adding butter, cheese, bacon – even pasta – to fool us. But while I would sometimes be careless enough to let a few of those slippery little things past my lips, I would never admit it at the school lunch table. Peas were the worst.

Now that I’m an adult and I’m on the west coast, I imagine that children here in California can’t feel the same way about peas. I imagine they’ve never had the frozen kind – defrosted before served. I imagine the only reason to have a bag of frozen peas in your freezer out here is to numb the occasional bump or bruise.

And then, back into the freezer they go.

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

Now that I’m an adult, we wait for pea season like it’s a mini pea Christmas. We snatch up the first tendrils that appear at the market weeks before the actual pods, alerting us that it’s almost time. We add tendrils to salads. We sauté them with garlic. We throw them in with faro and call it lunch.

A few weeks after the joy of the cute and curly tendrils has worn off, the first English peas start to pop up. We taste our way through each stand at the market, wading through all the early season starchiness to find that perfect sweet pod.

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

And then one week, without warning, the tendrils start to disappear and the pea pods at every stand are crunchy and sweet. You buy a bag and crunch your way through as you shop for eggs, strawberries, flowers, and squash. And then you realize just before heading to your car that you might need another bag for lunch tomorrow.

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

While they’re delicious sautéed in butter and topped with a little bit of cheese or thrown in a carbonara with ham, egg and spaghetti – my favorite way to eat snap peas is with their original crunch still intact. For a simple lunch, side dish, or pre-dinner salad, I take the easy way out. No real recipe required, just good ingredients thrown together on a plate and enjoyed for their crunch, saltiness, and creaminess. All of it coming together for that perfect springtime bite.

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

I’m hoping the childhood pea rumors that were going around the elementary school playgrounds in the 80s are well over at this point. And if not, make this salad. (Force) Feed it to a young person. Maybe blindfold them if necessary. But I guarantee their idea of peas will change forever.

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

The Key of Kels Makes Snap Pea Salad with Jamon Burrata and Mint

Eat your peas while they’re here. Or else you’ll be waiting until next pea season.

xoxo

Snap Pea Salad With Burrata, Prosciutto & Mint

English Snap Peas – whole, sliced, and shucked
Pea Tendrils

Prosciutto – thinly sliced
Burrata
Mint
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Finishing Salt & Pepper

This is more of a “No Recipe” recipe. You can use damon iberico instead of prosciutto, arugula instead of tendrils, grate a hard cheese instead of burrata, substitute basil for mint – make it your own!

For my salad, I prepared the peas by breaking off the stem and pulling the stringy vein that runs down the pea’s “spine”. Then I kept the prettiest ones whole, sliced some at an extreme bias, and shelled some of the more bruised ones. Then I layered in pea tendrils, torn pieces of prosciutto, and tiny mint leaves. For the burrata, I like mine to be all one consistency, so I broke up the ouster Mozzarella layer and mixed it in with the creamy inside. It just makes it easier to break apart and eat, in my opinion. Top your salad with a scoop of burrata, and then finish off with a drizzle of a fancy EVOO and salt and pepper. I use Jacobsen’s sea salt because it gives everything a salty crunch. Devour in the breeze by a sunny window.

Dark Chocolate Kumquat Scones

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It’s a rainy weekend here in Santa Monica – and that’s not a phrase I get to say too often.

But it is. Rainy. It’s a dreary, kind of chilly, misting rain. Sometimes actually full drops of rain. In California, any sort of water falling from the sky means that you absolutely stay inside and hibernate. It is required rainy day behavior.

We don’t get much of a chance to do that around here. Especially on weekends. California weekends are made for outdoor activities. For hiking, brunching, biking, beaching… Weekends around here were quite literally created for basking in the yellow sunshine under a gorgeous blue California sky.

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Not this weekend.

This rainy weekend is for cuddling under the covers until well past the time you should get up. It’s for getting up to take the dog out, and then immediately curling up on the couch under a blanket as soon as you take your raincoat back off. It’s for napping and for sweatpants and for warm, melty, chocolatey scones.

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Yep. Warm. Melty. Chocolate. Scones. Rainy day weekends may be especially made for those.

You see, I have this kumquat tree just outside my bedroom window. Every year it blossoms with these bright orange little sweet tart fruits. These little bombs of sunshine – of sour, and then a little sweet. And every year our upstairs neighbors can be found picking them by the handful. Any time of day. Breakfast time – picking kumquats. Wafts of are dinner starting to drift down through our open windows – they’re out there picking kumquats. Sometimes I could be stumbling home from a late night at work and run into them – you guessed it – picking kumquats.

I’ve always been so curious. What do they do with all that sour fruit?

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Now, I’ve had kumquats before. Typically eaten fresh. Just a quick bite that puckers your lips enough to make you scrunch up your nose real tight, and then you go back in for that second nibble to finish it off. But the neighbors couldn’t just be eating fresh kumquats by the handful at all hours of the day, could they?

They’re delicious and all, but one or two and I’m pretty much done. To top it off, every recipe I could find made them unbelievably sweet. Candied kumquats. Kumquat jam. I was determined to think outside the box. I’d make a salsa or a chutney or something savory and exciting with them!

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But the rain. The rain just gave me a perfect excuse to turn on the oven. To roll out of bed around noon and whip up some scones to sprinkle with dark, gooey chocolate and bright, sweet-tart citrus. The rain just begged for the luscious, puckering kumquats with chocolate to brighten up it’s grey mood.

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I’m generally not a huge advocate of chocolate in the morning. I prefer my breakfasts more savory than sweet. And before all of the kumquats dissapear into the apartment above us, I am still determined to find something tart and savory to do with those little orange explosions.

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Until then, I’m going to be eating these scones for breakfast & dessert. With a fried egg or with ice cream. Because until the California sun comes out again, I’ll be enjoying every moment of this chocolatey, sleepy, couch hibernation mode.

xoxo


 

Dark Chocolate Kumquat Scones

adapted from Joy The Baker

3 cups (360 g) all-purpose flour
1.25 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoon salt (i love salt. cut back to 1 tsp if you’d like!)
1/3 cup (66 g) + 3 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1.5 cups heavy cream (plus more for brushing)
1 pint kumquats, thinly sliced
.5 cup chopped dark chocolate
turbinado sugar for topping

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss sliced kumquats with 3 tbsp granulated sugar and spread in a single layer on the lined baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until sugars start to caramelize and skins start to pucker up. Let cool completely.

While fruit is cooling, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup, mix together vanilla extract and 1.5 cups cream. Drizzle the cream mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Mixture will still be a bit crumbly and not all fully mixed together. Add the cooled kumquats and dark chocolate pieces, and continue to mix. You want your dough to be shaggy, not moist.

Turn out your the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. (This is where it really comes together!) Gently gather and knead the dough until well combined, and then form into a square. Cut the square into four pieces, then into eight even triangles.

Using a pastry brush, brush each scone with heavy cream and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.

Place at least 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Remove from the oven and serve warm.

Save wrapped with plastic wrap at room temperature for 2-3 days. Heat up in the oven at 350 for 5-10 minutes and serve for breakfast with scrambled eggs. Reheat and serve for dessert topped with vanilla ice-cream or barely sweetened whipped cream. Or just break off a piece and snuggle up with your pooch on the couch and listen to the rain fall. Yum.

April: Spring Has Sprung

Spring may have officially started in March, but April is the month where it feels like it’s really stuck.

It’s the month when you know for sure that it’s not winter anymore.

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I should be more sensitive to those of you who don’t live in endless-summer-SoCal. Maybe to some of you, April feels like less consistent winter. (I sort of know. I lived in Ithaca, NY for a year) Maybe you’ll still see a flake of snow now and then. But deep down, you can tell the sun is staying up a little bit later. You can feel the wind losing it’s bite.

Even in Upstate New York, there are hints of green here and there telling you to just hold on a few more weeks and it will be shorts season again.

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One of the big reasons we love Southern California is the insanely long growing season. We are lucky enough to have a farmers’ market that is stocked with some kind of fruits and veggies every single week all year long. Even in the depths of winter, there are bright citrus fruits, hearty root vegetables, and enough greens to juice for days.

But there is still something special about springtime at the market. When strawberries reappear, plump and deep red. When artichokes poke out and asparagus stalks are banded together into bunches. Lilacs perfume the air and rainbows of spring pea flowers fill buckets.

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There are still days when the ocean wind whips through the streets and farmers have to take down their tents. There are days when you are bundled up in a sweater and a winter jacket. But you sample juicy strawberries. You pull apart a English pea to see if it is sweet enough yet. You pull off a pea tendril to determine how thick it is, how woody it might taste. You grab a jug of freshly squeezed tangerine juice and you make do.

Because spring is here. It is most definitely here.

xoxo

The Greenest Month (Happy St Patty’s Day!)

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I made this crazy (for me) decision this month. Coming off of an epic birthday celebration week straight into at least a week in bed with the nastiest cold that’s been floating around, I decided I was going to take the rest of March to really take care of myself. Which, kind of sadly, included cutting out alcohol for a few weeks.

Working in the food business and – most importantly – a wine bar, I figured it wouldn’t be the easiest thing to do. I’m surrounded by wine all of the time. I am constantly being offered tastes from amazing bottles. I work tastings and I’m supposed to know what things taste like so I can sell them to guests. It’s just kind of written in the job description: Must Drink Wine.

So I knew I would be missing out a little. I knew I’d have to resist temptation. I even built in an allowed cheat day once a week if I needed it. But I didn’t think about one major (?) thing.

People get really excited about St Patrick’s Day.

Like, so excited that they kept expressing their deep concern for me that I’d voluntarily be sober and “missing out” on this major holiday.

But I have a different take.

Maybe the amazing thing about this time of year is the sheer amount of green that pops up in every corner. Yes, leprechauns and four leaf clovers and whatnot… But March is the beginning of spring! (I know. I am super struggling with surviving Daylight Savings Time right now) Plus – we’ve actually had rain in Southern California! Things are growing!

You want to see green?! This week at the farmer’s market, I stocked up on every green thing I could find. Literally, every green thing. And it wasn’t a difficult task. Gorgeous greens. Crisp asparagus. Creamy avocado. Twisty pea tendrils. Fragrant herbs. Leafy broccoli & hearty sprouts.

Maybe I’m not having major FOMO because I’m not typically a beer or liquor drinker. Maybe it’s because my husband doesn’t drink. Maybe it’s because I get claustrophobic in shoulder-to-shoulder bars or because I have bad enough hearing as it is that I’d rather hang out with my friends in a place I can actually hear what they have to say. Maybe it’s just because I’m not Irish and I don’t feel the pull to pretend I am for a day. I don’t know.

But come on! If I were going to be all festive, I feel like I picked the perfect (green) month to get super healthy. I’m just swapping the green beer for a green juice!

Oh God. That was so California of me.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all 🙂

xoxo

Kels Eats LA

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Things are a-changing around here.

I’ve given TKOK a bit of a makeover. To be honest, I’ve given my whole self a bit of a makeover. I’ve had some time to think about me and what I want. What I am. Who I am.

And – maybe most importantly – what I want to say.

I’ve realized that one of my favorite things in this world is sharing food with the people I love. I love cooking for them, eating with them, and telling them the stories behind the food & the farmers. I love going to the Farmer’s Market and connecting with the people who nurture our fruits and vegetables from seeds. I love eating seasonally and taking pictures and getting inspired and trying new things.

I also love when people call or text me drooling about a photo that I posted on Instagram of my dinner. I love when people who live across the country start asking questions because of food that I’m discovering and searching out here in Los Angeles. I love when people are in town for 24 hours, they are staying in a certain neighborhood, and they just want to eat the best two or three meals they can get their hands on while they’re around. I love making them lists and itineraries of where to go, who to talk to, and what to eat. I love sharing this bustling Los Angeles food scene with them in any way I can get their hands on it.

I want everyone to have the unbelievable dining experiences that I get to have.

I’m very lucky in this sense. I have worked in the food industry for most of my life now. Food people are my people. My husband is an amazing chef. My friends are cooks, chefs, farmers, restaurant owners, sommeliers, food lovers, and artists. The people I eat with are the people behind the Los Angeles food scene. I have constant inspiration and information from some of the most talented people in the business at my fingertips anytime I need it.

So what do I want to say?

I want to share all of that. I want to make it accessible. I want to poke my head into some of the most amazing kitchens in Los Angeles and tell you their stories. I want to inspire people to think of their food as more than just fuel. I want to bring a little bit of that bustling dining room magic to you – wherever you might live.

My new mission is to take you all with me around Los Angeles as I visit (and revisit, and revisit again…) some of my favorite restaurants. I want to take you with me while I try out new restaurants and foods I’ve never heard of and wander around new neighborhoods. I want you to be able to meet all of the awesome people who make Los Angeles’s food scene sing.

Most importantly, I want you to find a way to be a part of it, yourself. My hope is that my posts of recipes, inspiration, and other food-related tidbits help you to travel to new places with your cooking and dining experiences.

So let’s do it. Let’s eat through LA.

xoxo

 

 

Rollercoaster

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Someone recently gave me a swift punch in the face instead of a nicer, more eloquent, ease-me-into-it nudge.

Figuratively, of course. But damn, it hurt.

Turns out we all have a lot of shit going on in our lives. We all freak out from time to time. And the ones who you want to reach out a hand and pull you out of the muck aren’t always capable of it for whatever reason. Sometimes, no matter how much you just want someone to fix you, you simply have to figure it out on your own. 

You’ve gotta pull yourself out of the damn muck.

It took me a swift punch in the face to wake up to the reality that I have to be prepared – and satisfied! – if my whole world turns upside down one day. That all the parts I thought would be there forever just might not. And maybe I should take inventory from time to time. Maybe I should make sure I’ve got a good grip on me… Just in case. Like an earthquake kit.

(I should definitely invest in an earthquake kit.)

I originally stopped writing because I seriously didn’t have the time. I was starting a business. I was working a job on top of it. I was exhausted. I had no creativity left in me after the day was done.

Then things got tough, and I didn’t write because I was trying to keep it all together. No one wants to talk about trying to keep it all together. I couldn’t even imagine the things I’d have to say. No one would want to read them.

When I admitted that I needed to take a different path, I still didn’t come back to writing. My ego was horribly bruised. All I could think of was that I had “failed”. In my business. In keeping up my side of the finances. In breaking out on my own and starting something cool and fun. I went back to work with my tail between my legs.

And lately, when my next path pulled me out of the darkness, when I got back my footing… I didn’t start writing again because I wasn’t sure what it was all about anymore. I just wanted to write happy things like I used to, and I couldn’t find that part of me that was really excited about anything. I wanted my reemergence into this blog that I love to be shiny and void of all of the guilt and frustration I felt. I struggled to find a clean, fresh start.

Recently, I’ve had some great people in my life ask me some even greater questions. And those questions have stirred something in me. They’ve forced me to face what I was trying to hide or pretend never happened. They forced me to look at myself and figure out what I love and what I don’t. Why I’ve done the things I did and what I gained from it all. They’ve offered me the opportunity to be introspective and think about what is best for me. Where I want to be heading. Peace of mind that I can survive any storm, any ride – and that I’m happy. What does my earthquake kit consist of?

Someone told me today, “Stop waiting for the rollercoaster to stop. Declare that something has to change.”

So here I am. Fresh start.

There are still going to be ups and downs and back wards and forwards and upside down loop-de-loops. I have decisions to make and plans to define, but I need to stop delaying and declare that I must start again. I’ve got to run alongside the car and jump in while it’s still rolling on the tracks. Because it’s never going to stop. Life isn’t going to slow down and stop happening so I can think about things or feel better about what path I’m on. Punches are going to keep getting thrown. I don’t want to wake up in six months and still be stuck where I am. I want to keep moving forward.

You’ll be seeing a lot more of me around here.

Step one. Complete.

xoxo