Archive | December, 2012

Francine’s Five Favorites of 2012

31 Dec
by Francine

This year was a big one for me…I moved to England, got married, became a UK resident and started a job in marketing…phew! 

But in between those huge milestones, life was really pretty normal and filled with boring (and A photo of the castlesometimes stressful things)…things like heaps of paperwork, cover letters and a never-ending, slowly drying pile of laundry (we don’t have a dryer in our flat).

Thankfully sprinkled amongst all of those stressful things were heaps of delicious food, sunshine-y memories and a few castles. ;)

I thought I’d take a moment to share five of my Real Local Cooking favorites from this past year.  It was hard to narrow it down when there are 105 posts (!!) from which to choose, but here they are…

1.  Making a Watermelon Radish Salad was really fun because it allowed me introduce my family to a vegetable I discovered in China and it brought some vibrant color to a cold MN winter.

A photo of the inside

2.  Since moving to England, I’ve enjoyed many store bought oatcakes, but before moving here, I made my own oatcakes after discovering the recipe in a River Cottage cookbook.  It was fun to create something different and many of you also enjoyed finding out about this recipe. 

A photo of Oatcakes

3. Early in 2012, I began making FarmerChef specials with seasonal and local products/produce.  Once a week, we put these specials on the menu at my parents’ restaurant.  I enjoyed the challenge and creativity involved in coming up with dishes. 

After moving to England, my parents continued preparing and serving FarmerChef specials, and I loved finding out about all the creative dishes they were coming up with.  I thought their Kohlslaw…coleslaw from kohlrabis was especially fun.  I made this salad in September when we picked our own Kohlrabi.

Photo of Kohlslaw

4.  In England, the summer of 2012 was very cool, wet and un-sunny; perhaps that’s why it made me so happy to see the Garden Tours of the raised bed garden throughout the MN summer.

photo of a tomato

5. Last month, mom, dad and Luke came to visit us in England.  We discovered the beauty of the Lake District…oh my!

A photo of Littletown Farmphoto of salad in a jar

And some runner-ups…

Having my first scone with clotted cream and plum jam, picking strawberries, trying out this FarmerChef quiche (and making it many times since…any time I have eggs, vegetables and no idea what to fix for dinner), making both strawberry+rhubarb crumble and cobbler and seeing that mom made an oh-so pretty layered salad.

It’s been a fun year of blogging, filled with many good memories and tasty recipes

Thanks for stopping by our little corner of the internet and sharing your own memories. thoughts and recommendations in the comments! It’s always so great to hear from you!

My First Fig

26 Dec
by Francine

Growing up in the midwest and always living in places with cold winters, the only fig I ever encountered where those of the Newton variety which I’ve always found found to be delightfully crunchy.  When I moved to England I started noticing figs from faraway places in the supermarket, but I wanted to hold off on having a fig until I was in a place that had figs growing on a tree. Since it might be that figs are one of the last fruits I’ll get to have for the first time in my lifetime…

I tasted bright pink dragon fruit for the first time in Vietnam and saw the cactus-like way it grows; I was introduced to the very smelly durian by Chinese friends, and I bought fragrant mangosteens from a smiling Chinese fruit vendor after seeing the very cute fruit piled high in all the street market stalls (more on mangosteens in a future post because they are just so delightful).

Anyway, I promised myself that I’d wait to have figs until I was in a place that had figs on their list of local seasonal fruits.A photo of a fig tree  Thankfully this happened sooner than I expected.  We went to Macedonia (the Former Yugoslav Republic) back in September and as we drove from Skopje (the capital) to Lake Ohrid we were amazed at the beauty of this tiny mountainous country. We also noticed its bounty…vines heavy with grapes, watermelons everywhere, and the ripest tomatoes of our lives crowning every dish. 

We arrived at our guesthouse on the shore of Lake Ohrid just as the sun was going down and we sounded like a crazy flock of seagulls muttering ‘wow, wow, wow’ over and over.  It was SO beautiful, seriously one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever visited. 

A photo of the Sunset over lake Ohrid

Our private balcony was framed by creeping vines, purple flowers and an unobstructed view of the lake.  Just when I was thinking that things couldn’t get any better, the jolly and very kind guesthouse owner, Pavel, leaned over our balcony and presented us with a bowl of perfectly ripe figs, asking us if we liked them.  He then pointed to a nearby tree that was completely heavy with ripe figs!A photo of figs

I immediately had one; and as the juice dripped down my chin, I was so glad that I waited to have a fig that was so ripe it would fall of the tree into your hand.  A photo of a figI was pleased to find out that the crunchyness of fig newtons comes from the seeds which are interemingled with the delicate flesh.  And how pretty that tangled flesh is…upon close inspection it looks like a the center of a rose.

I had no idea that Macedonia would have ripe figs, but it was such a wonderful surprise.  If you ever get a chance to visit Lake Ohrid, you must! And if you ever find yourself in Ohrid you must stay at Pavel’s guesthouse (Grebnos Stonehouse Apartments); he was a wonderful and welcoming host with a deep love and pride for his beautiful country of Macedonia.

Do you remember the first time you had a fig?  Have you ever plucked one from the tree?  I’d love to hear!

ps. Sorry it took me 3 months to get this post up…I’ve been wanting to share this figgy tale with you since it happened. ;)  Hope you’re all well…thanks for reading!

Real Butter, Sugar, and Cocoa Gluten-Free Brownies

22 Dec
by Deanne

Photo of Gluten-Free Brownie

This brownie recipe is really good.  You would never know it is made sans wheat.  Baking gluten-free can be rewarding in terms of taste.  Thursday night after Steve made a batch of these brownies for a party we had at our restaurant on Friday,  I offered to clean up. This afforded me the the opportunity to taste the butter/sugar/cocoa combination.  It was a glorious treat!

However, I have learned that having a dietary restriction is a blessing in disguise. We started cooking with whole food ingredients and cut out processed foods. This experience has become an opportunity to cut out many other ingredients that are questionable in terms of health. For example, sugar.

We’ve been reading and writing about the links between sugar and heart disease and sugar and cancer. Based on what I am reading, I am more concerned with excess sugar than other ingredients like butter or oil.  During the holidays it is especially difficult to let go of sugar .  Sugary treats are such a big part of celebrations.  Even with my concerns, I will admit, we are not super human…..the leftover brownies have easily been consumed.  :)

How about you, what are your thoughts on sugar?   Have you been cutting down on sweets?

Real Butter/Sugar/Cocoa Gluten-Free Brownies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease 9×13 pan

1 cup butter 

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 and 1/2 cup gluten free flour blend of your choice.  See ours listed below.  It is named after Steve’s mom, Mary Jane.

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cocoa

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and continue to mix until well beaten.  Combine gluten free flour, salt and cocoa.  Add dry mixture to creamed mixture and beat well.   Spread evenly in pan.  Bake 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes clean.

MJ’s Gluten Free Flour Mix

makes 4 cups

1 and 1/2 cup white rice flour

1 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup tapioca starch

1/2 cup sweet rice flour

1/4 cup potato starch

1/4 cup corn starch

2 teaspoons xanthan gum

Questions Upon a Castle:Two Days in Edinburgh

14 Dec
by Deanne

Edinburgh Castle: The guidebooks told me it was there but it didn’t capture my attention.  Then I wandered in and out, up and down seeing Mons Meg, a deep dark dungeon, and the precise room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future king, James I of England.Photo of Edinburgh Castle


Traveling and adventure gives me time to ponder.  Since this is my first visit to a castle, I wondered:

Photo of a Knight

Where did my own childhood fantasy take shape?  How I did I know to imagine sitting on a throne and  tossing evil doers into the dungeon?

Why did my brother, and most of the young boys I have known, pretend they were knights protecting a kingdom?

Photo of Gate at Edinburgh CastleMy most important question is…

Why does this towering relic, a symbol of so much collective human suffering, captivate my imagination?

Besides the castle, here are a few places we’d recommend:

Edinburgh City Hotel:  Built in 1879, the original Memorial Hospital dedicated to Sir James Young Simpson.  It is a lovely building, now transformed into a modern, very appealing, central yet quietly located 3 star comfortable hotel.

The Elephant House:  Famed as one of the places that JK Rowling sat writing much of her early novels about a boy named Harry Potter in the back room overlooking Edinburgh Castle.  We ate lunch there after a tour of the castle and before a trip to the National Museum of Scotland.

Dusit Thai:  Tucked away on Thistle Street, a unique Thai restaurant.

Caffe Nero:  A chain coffee place, with two very friendly baristas.  It is one of the few places open for an early morning breakfast before our bus tour.

Tour Guide Mike of Rabbie’s Trail Burners:  He proved to be an excellent storyteller and made our tour of the Scottish Highlands memorable.

The photos are compliments of Luke Bryce who toured Edinburgh Castle twelve days prior to me on a sunny day. For more pictures of Edinburgh check out Luke’s Flicker album.

Photo of a View of Edinburgh from the castle


Visiting Herriot Country

11 Dec
by Deanne

Growing up, Francine heard a few stories from her Dad (Steve) about a young veterinary surgeon and his work among the farming community of North Yorkshire. Because of Steve’s fondness for James Herriot,  we shared some of his books for children, like Moses_the_Kitten Moses the Kitten, during Francine’s childhood.  When planning our trip to visit her in the UK, she was sure to include a trip to Yorkshire. She sought out the area that is now called Herriot Country.

Steve was a boy in 1973, when James Herriot became an overnight sensation in the United States. Herriot’s first two books, If Only They Could Talk and It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet were combined into one volume called All Creatures Great and Small

Reading these books helped to shape Steve’s decision to study animal science.  Later, as a young married couple, Steve and I often watched the BBC television series starring Robert Hardy and Christopher Timothy.

James Alfred Wight used the pen name of James Herriot in accordance with veterinarian professionalism and changed the names and details of his clients, the source of inspiration for the characters he brought to life.  The real location of his practice is in the market town of Thirsk and we decided to seek out the visitor attraction called The World of James Herriot.

The visitor attraction located in a house at 23 Kirkgate has been restored to its original 1940’s decor.  This allowed us to visualize what it might have been like to live and work in this space as a veterinary surgeon during that time.  The upstairs has been converted to a museum.  There we learned about how the original veterinarians were farriers who made and fitted horseshoes.  They combined some blacksmith‘s skills (fabricating, adapting, and adjusting metal shoes) with knowledge of anatomy and physiology of horse’s limbs and hooves.

Visiting Yorkshire, with it’s seemingly endless landscape and unique beauty was a dream come true for both Steve and I.  We thank Francine for planning it and Luke for capturing the memories  through his photographs.  We had the opportunity to experience for ourselves this quote:

And the peace which I always found in the silence and emptiness of the moors filled me utterly.James Herriot


Black and White Photo of Yorkshire

Fresh Off The Boot: A Taste of Italy

7 Dec
by Deanne

Have you ever found yourself in a totally new situation, juggling your purse, a cocktail napkin and a little plate of food?  I found myself is such a circumstance on Sunday.Map of Italy

Steve and I drove for 2 plus hours and got lost (because of my Apple map…… grumble grumble ). However, when we finally arrived at Broders’ Pasta Bar in Minneapolis for a tasting event that raised funds for Slow Food Minnesota, we were glad we made the effort.

Where do I start with all I learned?  Keep in mind this blog’s purpose is to help me learn about real food and local food.  I first discovered the slow food movement about ten years ago. Since this is my first event, I must be a slow adopter.  It is an international non-profit, member-supported association.  Slow Food was founded in 1989 in Europe as a concern about the rise of fast food and fast life, and the disappearance of local food traditions. The organization now has 100K members in 153 countries.

You can’t get more slow than aged vinegars made from traditions that have been passed along from generation to generation in Italy. We sampled an apple balsamic vinegar made by Acetaia San Giacomo, located in the Reggio Emilla region of Italy. (See #8 on the map for the location of this region.)  I was surprised that apples can be made into balsamic vinegar and discovered that the process, in this case, substitutes Trentino apples for Trebbiano grapes during the reduction and acidification process of making aged balsamic vinegar.  

Back in October, when we attended Fermentation Fest, we learned that balsamic vinegar takes years to make.  Unless one attends an event like this one, most people have never tasted “real” balsamic.  According to blogger, Rebecca Wine, in a recent post, what we consumers usually end up buying in our stores is a commercial product that simulates the original one and is made from wine vinegar with the potential additions of coloring, caramel, arabic gum and corn starch.  

My first ever taste of panforte occurred across the room from the vinegar table.  Panforte is an Italian fruit cake.  However, it didn’t taste like any other fruit cake from my childhood (thank goodness). Back at home, I did a little research and discovered that David Lebovitz, a blogger and author that my cousin Susan told me about, has a post with a recipe for this treat.

Steve and I both enjoyed the Villa Reale Semi-dried Cherry Tomatoes, and the mushroom risotto prepared by the chef.  We tasted four varieties of olive oils. All the products did not have the additives and extra salts/sugars Americans have been tasting in increasing amounts since our childhood.


For local food we tasted Borsellino Salami by La Quercia.  This company is located in Norwalk, Iowa.  They use traditional dry curing methods and pork from hogs  not raised in confinement.

We were impressed with the passion and knowledge shared by the staff at Broders’ as we traveled around each tasting table.  We met Molly Broder, the owner and chatted at the bar with one of her sons.

With our taste buds both refreshed by the pure flavors and intrigued by the possibilities, we left looking forward to returning to Broders’ again for a nice meal as well as attending the next Slow Food Minnesota event in January. 

Have you heard of the slow food movement?  If not a member and you believe in this mission, join as a way to celebrate Terra Madre Day on December 10th.

The Magic of Yorkshire and a Proper Pot of Tea

6 Dec
by Deanne

Photo of Bridge

It’s as if a magic wand has been cast over the surrounding countryside to make it so beautiful. Rolling hills, crystal-clear rivers, butterflies taking flight from meadows, fiery sunsets over the moors and quaint, sleepy villages mesmerise outdoor lovers, ramblers and artists alike.

This quote, pulled from a travel article, speaks to the magical transformation we felt as we left the Lake District and drove across Yorkshire Dales Park before the early winter sunset.  The Lake District fells were wild and untamed and what we saw unfolding before our eyes was sweeping and panoramic.  Both are beautiful in their unique ways and make a person want to get outdoors even in the cold month of November and then huddle by the fire with a cup of tea at the end of the day. Photo of Yorkshire Dales

After the sun went down we found our way to a sweet bed and breakfast and had some Yorkshire Tea in front of a roaring fire made with coal.  We also had a tea lesson and learned that in Yorkshire it is proper to have a pot of tea with another pot for hot water if the tea is too strong. Milk of course is necessary.

In the morning we checked out the livestock in the barn and the other surroundings around Mt. Pleasant Farm near Richmond.

Photo of Cattle at Mount Pleasant

To summarize this aspect of our trip, we drove through the Yorkshire Dales, stayed in Vale of York, and got a tiny peek of the Yorkshire Moors Park with a visit to the market town of Helmsley.

Photo of Helmsley

 Another BIG THANKS to Luke Bryce for all the pictures

FarmerChef Smoothie

4 Dec
by Deanne

Do you think it is still possible this time of year to eat food gathered locally?  We’ve discovered that once a FarmerChef  has the whole grow your own food, preserve your own food routine down, it is easy to incorporate the fruits of our labour into our life.  I was able to use spinach from our raised bed garden, yes it is near 50 degrees here in Minnesota, and strawberries from the freezer that we picked last summer.

Photo of Smoothie

This morning I used our basic recipe, which is really more of a framework for making smoothies. My mind is on no added sugar because I am working on a post for my business Solar’s Real Food blog about the latest research on sugar, especially fructose and the link with health.    (It really makes a person re-think how much sugar a person consumes during the first meal of the day.)

FarmerChef Smoothie

Veggie – add something green like spinach or kale: fresh or frozen

Fruit – berries, apples, bananas: canned or frozen fruit

Fat – seeds or oils like chia seeds or flax seed oil (for more on chia, check out this blogger)

Grains  – quinoa or oat bran

Liquid – juice or milk (can be dairy-free)

Protein – lentils or nutritional yeast

Probiotic – sauerkraut, kombucha or plain yogurt

This recipe works really well if you are on a rotation diet to deal with food intolerance.  I added chia seeds but didn’t include grains  and extra protein today.  I used almond milk (yes it does contain sugar) and took a probiotic supplement rather than include it in my smoothie.  The recipe is pretty flexible and good for those that prefer using what they have on hand rather than following detailed recipes.  The version I made was gluten-free and dairy-free.

If you try this basic framework for making a smoothie tell us what you ingredients you used to make your version. Did you find that is was possible to eliminate or cut back on added sugar?