Archive | August, 2012

Can You Make a Drink from Watermelon Juice?

31 Aug
by Deanne

Each week we share our successes and failures in our FarmerChef project.  This is a challenging little project we started last spring. We take whatever is growing in our garden, or available from our local farmers, and create something in the kitchen.  Our goal is to get through a whole year making something that is or was grown locally. 

This week I took a watermelon from last Saturday’s farmers market and pressed all of the juice out of it.  I was a able to get about 3 quarts of juice from one big watermelon.  Photo of Watermelon Drink

I was inspired to come up with a watermelon drink from this blog post from Putney Farm.  They suggested a lovely watermelon drop cocktail. 

While I like cocktails from time to time, I prefer non-alcoholic drinks and since I didn’t have all the ingredients, I tried adding seltzer water and lemons.  My drink didn’t really work.  Luke, my son came to the rescue by by adding limes instead of lemon and he also added basil.  It was a nice touch and he captured for us to share with his digital camera.  Thanks again, Luke!

Have you ever made a drink from watermelon?

If A Guy Named Gary Can, Why Not Us?

30 Aug
by Deanne

On the last day of restaurant operations one person asked us to help her create healthy concessions for the local school’s activities.  The first item requested was a healthy cookie or bar.  We wondered, “Is it really possible to create  a healthy cookie?   So we thought a granola or energy bar might be a place to start.  There are times, when you are way from home and need a little energy to keep going.  We don’t see ourselves competing with all the many healthy and organic bars out there, we just want to create one that is just for our community and learn a little about product creation in the process.

Photo of our first batch of granola bars

This led us to the story of the guy who created the Clif Bar, a product we had seen in the market one day.  Here’s what we learned about Gary from  his company website:  One day he was eating an energy bar while taking your average 175 mile day long bike ride.  He told his friend, “I can do better than this.”  Two years later after countless attempts he landed on his original Clif bar and named it after his dad, Clifford. 

Image of the Clif logo

Everything about his company is ultra cool.  The outdoorsy image, the stories of hiking, biking and the active Northern California lifestyle. It almost makes us question our ability to come up with a new business when we are clearly not cool and we live in a small town in southwest Minnesota where there are no high Sierra trails to hike.  Ah but we do have beautiful sunsets and a vast prairie to ponder at the end of a busy day.

The reality is, all businesses, start with an inspired idea and are followed by an immense amount of determination and hard work.  We’ve always sought out stories like Gary’s because they bring out our ability to dream and consider, “If a guy who lived in a garage and had to develop products in his mom’s kitchen can grow a successful business, why not us?”

Our journey has just begun and it may have many detours but it is fun to share it with you.  We had our first taste test yesterday with former restaurant customers who are following our progress on facebook.  Today we met with our graphic designer and discussed packaging and logo design.

We hope by sharing our ups and downs you will find inspiration to do something you have been longing to do.

What are you dreaming about?  Do you want to lose weight, start a new business, get a new job, or travel?

A Fair Day for FarmerChefs

29 Aug

On Sunday, we found our way to the Minnesota State Fair.  We had a specific goal in mind.  No, it wasn’t to discover how many “foods” are served on sticks. Although we did see more than a few.

Photo of Lamb Chop on Stick

Our aim was to see the good folks at River Rock Coffee in St. Peter. They were invited to cook in a day long event created by the Minnesota Farmers Union called Minnesota CooksSteve and I, along with his parents, were excited to attend this 10th annual event for our first time.

We wandered in and out of the event throughout the day.  The food samples were outstanding and we appreciated the creativity and discussion on the impact both from a sustainability and a health perspective for using locally sourced foods whenever possible. We left at the end of day with calendar featuring the recipes and lots of inspiration for our own little FarmerChef project.

Photo of 2012-13 Mn Cooks Calandar

The event took place on an outdoor stage with two chefs on the right side of the stage and four or five celebrities and/or farmers on a tasting panel to the left of the stage.

It was hard to really see what the chefs were cooking, but we were entertained from the interaction provided by morning emcee Mary Lahammer from Twin Cities Public Television and afternoon emcee JD Fratzke of The Strip Club Meat & Fish.

A memorable discussion from the morning sessions was about questioning the sustainability of eating meat, especially beef that is fed grain rather than grass.  For those that didn’t study ruminant nutrition, like my husband Steve did, grass is a cow’s natural food. 

Todd Churchill at Thousand Hills Cattle Company reminded us that when we eat grain fed beef our bodies are getting  more Omega 6 fat than Omega 3 fat.  Omega 3 is considered more difficult to attain than Omega 6 fat.  Both are considered necessary for optimal health.  Omega 3 is often called the “healthy fat” and is more abundant when cattle eat grass. If you want to know more about this subject, here is a link to a good article from Cooking Light magazine.

Todd also predicts that in the future we will not be able to raise grain fed cattle because of the economics.  Steve, who is my resident expert on the cattle business, explains: 

“Because grass is the beef animal’s natural source of energy, feeding cattle grain is most feasible when grains are relatively inexpensive.  Cattle are the least efficient animals when it comes to converting grain in order to consume animal protein in our diets.  An increase in the use of corn for ethanol production and overall world grain demand has made corn very expensive and therefore grain fed beef expensive.”

Mike Phillips of Three Sons Meat Co. prepared Salami Bread Salad using pasture raised pork from Lori Brinkman of Elm Brink Farm.  Mike expressed his belief that at first seems strange for a meat purveyor, “We use too much animal protein!”  He designed his recipe to use salami as one favorable, but small component of the dish, not the dish itself. This is a healthy trick we have been teaching our cooking class attendees.  We will continue to feature recipes that are closer to vegan than the french fries and hamburgers we have been eating for years and selling when we operated our restaurant.   The more we read and learn, the more we realize this old diet was not serving its true purpose, to nourish our bodies.  There is so much to share about this idea so we’ll expand in later posts.

One highlight from the afternoon was seeing Paul Berglund of The Bachelor Farmer preparing what he called Bachelor Farmer Summer Harvest Salad, Soft-Boiled Farm Egg with The Bachelor Farmer Rooftop Herbs featuring produce from Dayna Burtness of Laughing Loon Farm.  (Wow, that is a long description but I didn’t want to leave anything out.)  We liked that he was a expressing  what we call his “FarmerChefiness” in the most extreme ways by growing herbs on a rooftop garden in urban Minneapolis.  This picture is from the restaurant’s website of the garden.

Photo of Rooftop Garden at The Bachelor Farmer

Another interesting discussion aligned with our new business focus.  Stephanie Meyer, a writer/blogger was on one of the afternoon discussion panels .  She mentioned her frustration with the gluten-free product boom. We agree and see what she is seeing, a steady stream of overly processed new foods now slapped with a gluten-free label.

While we are working on producing gluten-free and reduced allergy products ourselves, we feel there is a niche in the marketplace for items made from real food, not additives, that compliment a whole foods plant based diet.  We encourage our students and readers to be careful not to transfer an overly processed food diet to the gluten-free world.  We look forward to following Stephanie’s blog for continued inspiration.

We had a great day at the fair!  There were so many interesting people we heard and saw.  In our opinion, our time spent at the Minnesota Cooks event was much more fruitful than eating fried fruit on a stick or standing in line for Sweet Martha’s Cookies.

How about you, does your local or state fair have an event that highlights healthy cooking and sustainability?

What have you done lately to express your FarmerChefiness?

Garden Veggie Indian Dish: A FarmerChef Takes On New Flavors

24 Aug
by Deanne

After a busy week of cooking the final meals for customers at our restaurant, we closed down restaurant operations on Sunday.  When the clock struck 9pm, we were tired but uplifted because of the overwhelming support from the community during the past week.

The following day Steve and I celebrated our freedom in the most American of ways – we took a road trip!  We headed south to Des Moines, Iowa to visit Steve’s sister and her family. After a pleasant afternoon visit with family, we ate at an Indian Restaurant we scoped out earlier that day via online reviews.  We have had very little experience eating Indian cuisine in the past, but we’ve been intrigued by the cuisine due to it’s reliance on vegetables and plant-based proteins, perfect for the budding FarmerChef! Needless to say, our dining experience sparked an even greater flurry of interest towards Indian flavors.

In our research after the fact, we found a website about herbs and a terrific explanation of  the confusion I have personally experienced over the term“curry.”  For example the term actually comes from a southern Indian word, kari, which means sauce. When our world traveler daughter, Francine, returned from a trip to India last year, she tried to explain that curry is a word used to describe a sauce rather than a distinct herb.  

A few days later Steve, expressing his passion for combining flavors and ingredients, came up with this surprisingly simple and tasty dish.  It’s loaded with veggies from our garden and carries an enormous amount of flavor too! It also has protein from three difference sources – chickpeas, peas, and tofu. For those of you who are concerned about the spice, don’t worry, this is a mild curry (sauce).

Garden Veggie Indian Dish

makes 4 servings
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 carrots, coined
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 can chick peas (15.5 ounce)
  • 1 inch fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 package firm tofu
  • 2 tbsp cilantro
  • 5 scallions

Dice the carrots, onion, green pepper, garlic, ginger, cucumber, and tomatoes and keep in separate piles before starting to cook.

Heat skillet or pan over medium heat, add canola oil and carrots.  Saute until they start to soften.

Add onions and green pepper and sweat until softened.

Add ginger, garlic, tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes start to break down.

Pour the ingredients into a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. (Add water or soy milk to thin if needed.)

Return mixture to pan and add drained chick peas, peas and curry powder.  Stir to heat.  Adjust for salt depending on your tastes.  (1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp)

Add cucumber and tofu at the last minute and serve the dish over rice of your choice and garnish with cilantro and scallions.

The dish is easy to make and this time of year it is a novel way to use tomatoes and cucumbers which are abundant.   I didn’t even know there were tomatoes in the dish till Steve wrote up the recipe!

What is your experience with Indian cuisine and curries?

Have you ever chosen not to eat a dish because of popular culture?

Two Sisters and a Friend Salad with Rasberry Vinaigrette

23 Aug
by Deanne

Who knew that when we started this real local cooking journey we would discover that the recipes we would create would have a story. The salad we created for one of our FarmerChef specials has three stories.  Photo of Ingredients

The first story is about Kathleen and her beautiful golden Omega Maiden Camelina Oil. It is one of the ingredients we had on hand to help make raspberry vinaigrette for the salad. This spring, Kathleen and her husband Justin were featured on a program called On the Road with Jason Davis which is airs on KSTP News. This episode shows them bottling the oil and also using it combined with beeswax to provide a non-toxic organic mix to coat wooden toys for their Smiling Tree Toy business.

Kathleen introduced us to her sister Rachael who grows organic wheat. Kathleen and Rachel were raised by parents who have been involved in organic farming for years. Rachel and her husband started farming five years ago in Good Thunder, Minnesota.  They supply wheat to one of our favorite places to go for coffee, River Rock Coffee.  We recently purchased a few products and were anxious to try organic wheat berries.

Our friend D’Lisha, a recent guest blogger,  invited me to  her farm to pick  some wild raspberries.She is enthusiastic about growing real food and always willing to share.

As I picked I pondered, “What will I create with these raspberries?”

With  a little input from Steve, we came up with salad that had toasted wheat berries and a vinaigrette that used  all three ingredients:  Wheat berries,  camelina oil and  raspberries.  It is really cool that the wheat berries acted as a thickener for the dressing. Prepare the wheat berries first and then you can use them in this salad and other recipes

Photo of Wheat Berries


Toast 1 cup wheat berries in a dry skillet

Boil 6 cups water

Add 2 tsp salt

Stir in toasted wheat berries and simmer for 1 hour

Set aside to cool.

We decided to try a technique I saw online called salad in a jar so we modified the recipe for just one person but you can double or triple the recipe to make more jars which come in handy so you can enjoy a healthy salad on another of salad in a jar

Raspberry Vinaigrette

makes one serving

1 T raspberry juice made with ¼ cup raspberries in blender

Add :

  • 1 Tbls vinegar
  • 2 to 3 tarragon leaves picked fresh (optional, but a fun way to use herbs if you have some growing)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tsp camelina oil
  • 1 Tbls wheat berries

Blend together and pour in to the bottom of a quart sized mason jar.

Add approximately ¼ cup each in order

Wheat berries

Fresh cut scallions

Dried cranberries

Fill the rest of the jar with leafy greens of your preference. We used mixed leaf lettuce from our garden.

As long as you keep the jar upright and sealed in the fridge the salad will last several days. When you are ready to eat your single serving salad just turn it upside down and let the dressing drain down then mix the salad together in the jar by shaking and rotating. It is quite fun to mix the salad. Then pour the mixed ingredients in a salad bowl or plate and enjoy.

Solar’s Sunny Watermelon Basil Salad

16 Aug
by Deanne

We purchased some yellow seedless watermelon from Tomschin Produce and couldn’t wait to share its sweet flavor and surprising  color with our customers. It was the first time we’d ever had such a treat! 

As we sampled our first few slices, we pondered… did the watermelon get to be both yellow and seedless?  Was it genetically modified or bred in the normal manner of hybrid plant breeding?  Curious? Read this post to find out.

As you can see from the picture, we chose to create a sunny salad for a bittersweet day.  Our hint of sadness comes from the fact that this was our last day of serving FarmerChef recipes to our restaurant customers. Creating FarmerChef Specials has been challenging yet invigorating experience because each Wednesday we make something that is from either our garden, farmer’s market or other local producer.

Photo of Watermelon Basil Salad

We are closing our restaurant on Sunday, and we are excited about lots of new ideas.  One plan is to keep creating and sharing ideas for healthy eating though our blog and our cooking classes.

Solar’s Yellow Watermelon Basil Salad

makes 8 servings
  • 1 small yellow seedless watermelon, cubed
  • 3 tbsp canola or another vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • dash pepper
  • a few basil leaves, diced

First wash and cut the melon into bite sized cubes.  Place in a serving bowl.  Use a smaller bowl to make a dressing with the rest of the ingredients. Mix together and pour over cubed watermelon before serving.

Have you ever had yellow seedless watermelon? 

What do you think, would this be good with regular watermelon?

FarmerChef Special: Kohlslaw (again!)

15 Aug
by Deanne

Back on July 4th, we made a slaw out of kohlrabi but our in-house photographer, my son, was away so we didn’t have a way capture its appeal visually; so we made it again a few weeks ago and doubled the recipe because it was popular. People enjoyed having it as an alternative to the traditional cabbage coleslaw we usually serve.

One customer even made it at home, which is just what we like to hear.  She told us that her son doesn’t like kohlrabi, but he liked this recipe. 

If you haven’t tried it yet, here it is again (along with a nice photo by Luke).

Photo of KohlslawKohlslaw

  • 4-5 kohlrabi
  • 2 carrots
  • 5-6 scallions
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 canola oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar (brown or white)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard

Peel the thick skin off the kohlrabi and cut into pieces. Then grate with either a food processor or by hand. 

Peel and grate the carrots.  Rinse and cut the scallions on the bias. 

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl.  Then pour over the veggies and mix well until all have been coated.

Serve immediately or store in the fridge until ready to serve.  

What kinds of dishes do you like to make with kohlrabi?

Garden Tour: Late July part II

13 Aug
Photo of the grapevineby Francine

Part of this blogging adventure is about keeping in touch since I’m in England, and it’s great fun to share this blogging project.  Last week I was so excited to see the photos of the Solar’s garden in MN that I pushed publish to share it with all the virtual world, only to find out my mom was left wondering…how did it go live…I was going to add more photos??

Opps.  That was me.  We can blame it on transatlantic mis-communication and the fact that I’m working, job searching and trying to stay on top of household duties, which include wholesome home cooked meals.  (I don’t know how moms do it!!!  Much respect mommies of the world!)

Anyway, here’s the rest of the garden tour…live from MN!

See what the garden looked like in May and June.  It’s amazing to see all the growth!

The grapevines are starting to crawl up the pole of the patio!

They didn’t expect to see any berries this year so were very excited to discover raspberries. Photo of rasberries

The roma tomatoes are thriving.  Who knew tomatoes could be so shiny!?

photo of a tomato

How’s your garden looking this August?

Peach Salsa: A Savory FarmerChef Treat

10 Aug
by Deanne

While Francine is finding  wild blackberries  along the road in West Sussex (England), I am picking up peaches from our local store.  Sigh!

It’s a bit less romantic but equally delicious.  Each summer our local store has Elberta Peaches available during this time of year for the many home canning enthusiasts. This year I looked forward to picking up a box and hopefully sometime in the future we’ll be able to harvest our own peaches.

For sure, we plan to have peach pie for our customers this Friday.  But on Wednesday we whipped up something unusual with the peaches. I say unusual because when we think of peaches we tend to think of something sweet, not Photo of Peach Salsasomething savory.   This time rather than create a recipe ourselves,  we used a Peach Salsa recipe from  blogger Amy of She Wears Many Hats.

During our morning trip out to our herb garden, we picked fresh oregano since we were all out of cilantro.  We made the recipe as listed, except we added a little garlic (just because we like garlic) and substituted fresh oregano in place of the cilantro.  Once again, this proves that a FarmerChef is flexible and the whole process can be fun!

Are you a FarmerChef?  What have you been preparing with peaches?

Look what I found!

7 Aug
by Francine

A photo of blackberriesA photo of the refernce bookI was cycling along this afternoon and I spotted some blackberries along the lane.  I ate a few ripe ones then and there!

And then I had a look in a reference book when I got home to confirm that I hadn’t just eaten poison-berries. ;)

Thankfully I had an empty container in my bag (that previously contained a eat-at-my-desk snack).  There weren’t too many ripe berries, but I did manage to pick a few.  I’ll definitely stop back in the next few days to pick some more…fingers crossed no one else spots them. A photo of my bikeBicycle and blackberries in a box.

Are there blackberries to pick where you live?

p.s…Do you like my bicycle?  I don’t go very fast, but it sure is fun to ride!