Archive | March, 2013

Vietnamese Cuisine: Waking Up My Taste Buds

27 Mar
by Deanne

Photo of PhoIt wasn’t until February 2004, that I tasted the delightful flavors of Vietnamese cuisine.  I fell in love with this fresh, new-to-me cuisine when I dined with friends at Vietnam in Philadelphia.  At that point in my life, my taste buds had been in trance after years of uninspired cooking and eating.  I only have myself to blame, since I was the one cooking tacos, spaghetti, tator-tot casserole and pizza on a regular rotation.  I was clearly in a culinary rut.

My family had slightly ventured away from this path I had imposed on them.  Steve and Francine had already eaten at a Vietnamese restaurant in our suburb.  Silly me, I had turned down the opportunity to dine with them. When I woke up to the fact that you can’t judge a restaurant by its decor, I discovered the food at the Vietnam Cafe restaurant in Telford, PA was equally good, if not better than the one in the city. Soon this local restaurant was our go-to place on Friday nights at the end of a busy week.Photo of Vietnamese Home Cooking Book

Since that time, we have been reading cookbooks and eating Vietnamese food whenever possible.  Prior to our trip to California in January, we picked up a book by Charles Phan who owns several renowned restaurants in San Francisco.  We had a chance to eat lunch at Out The Door on Bush Street

Last week we offered a class in our kitchen that featured this lovely cuisine.  Luke, who many readers know as my son, did one of his GamerKitchen episodes on a similar dish to what we taught in our class. We offer you two recipe options: 

1. Here is a link to Luke’s recipe. 

2. Listed below is the recipe we used in our class.

BBQ Pork BunPhoto and link to GamerKitchen

For Marinade, blend:

  • 2 Tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, rough mince
  • ¼ cup onion, rough dice
  • 1 inch ginger, rough mince
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oil

Add marinade to bag along with:

1 lb thinly sliced pork loin

Marinate 4-8 hours

1. Grill pork on grill or char broiler

2. Slice and serve over rice vermicelli noodles

Serve with Dipping Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • 1 clove garlic – finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons carrot – finely grated
  • 1 bird chili

Garnish with:

  • lettuce or cabbage, shredded finely
  • cilantro
  • grated carrot
  • sliced cucumber
  • bean sprouts (lightly blanched
  • peanuts

PS.  Francine has studied and traveled in Vietnam.  Maybe she has a picture or tale to share from her days there?

Posole: A Great Dish for Leftover Pork Roast

15 Mar
by Deanne

Photo of Posole

I love the idea of using leftovers in new ways.  Here is an interesting soup or stew from Mexican cooking that was there in Mesoamerica before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  Anyone remember the grade school rhyme well enough to shout out the year?

In preparing our version, you have a choice:  You can add shredded leftover pork roast directly or you can twice roast the pork using a little stock, liquid smoke (if you like that flavor) and some sauteed onions.  If you pick this route, just spread the mixture on a cooking sheet and bake in an 350 degree oven until crispy but not burnt.  Then use this crispy pork in the recipe below.


 2 Tablespoons oil

1  onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Anaheim or Poblano pepper, diced

2 and 1/2 cups chicken stock

3/4 pound of twice roasted pork

1 can hominy, drained

2 tablespoons cilantro, minced

4 scallions, diced

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano

Instant Corn Masa Flour, just enough to thicken

Salt to taste

Garnish with shredded green or red cabbage, radishes, scallions, tiny diced red pepper and/or cilantro

1.  Mince and dice onions, garlic, Anaheim peppers, cilantro and scallions.

2.  Heat oil over medium heat.

3.  Add onions, garlic, and peppers and sweat until they just start to brown.

4.  Add the chicken stock and deglaze the pan. 

5.  Add roast pork and any drippings if you have them.

6.  Add remaining ingredients, salt to taste and thicken with masa.

If you like the history of food, it is probably worth noting that I found a potential skeleton in the closet when researching the history of this dish.  Honest Cooking, an interesting online cooking magazine, explained the history of Pazole and it’s adaption since ancient times.

Oatmeal Applesauce Cake

14 Mar
by Deanne

Photo of Oatmeal Applesauce Cake

Hey there FarmerChefs, it has been awhile since Francine and I shared a FarmerChef recipe with you.  This is a good one for all of you plan-ahead-types who purchased or picked local apples last fall and made applesauce… kinda like Luke (son/brother) did for the first time in his video.

Three cheers for keeping the art of food preservation alive in your family.  If you didn’t make applesauce last fall, you can always add store purchased applesauce.  Click on the image to see up close what my Fooducate app recommends for a pretty clean label applesauce.Screenshot of Fooducate App Fooducate can be downloaded for free on your tablet or smart phone.

Next fall, when the apples are falling from the trees, use this recipe from PBS to get your kids in on the process of making applesauce. 

Oatmeal Applesauce Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease 9×13 pan

1 cup old fashioned oats

1 and 1/2 cup applesauce

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup salted butter 

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1  teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon soda

Start by cooking the oatmeal in a pan with the applesauce and water.  Cook until done and set aside.  (Follow the oatmeal package for cooking time.)

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. 

Add eggs and vanilla and continue to mix until well beaten. 

Combine flour, salt, soda and cinnamon mixture in a bowl. 

Add dry mixture and oatmeal applesauce to creamed mixture and gently mix. 

Spread evenly in pan.  Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes clean. 

For a gluten free version you can use Francine’s grandma’s recipe for gluten free flour mix and use one cup in place of regular flour.  We used this flour mix before when we made brownies.

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

Spring Lambs

11 Mar

by Francine

On Saturday, we took a 30 minute drive to a nearby farm that advertised they had a ‘lambing experience’ from now until mid-April. A photo of a lamb

It’s definitely not uncommon to see sheep in the fields around here, but there’s only a short period of time when you can glimpse little lambs jumping in the fields.

We didn’t find any jumping lambs in the fields at Coombes Farm, but we did find newborn lambs.

And loads of baa-ing ewes…soon to be mama sheep.

A photo of the ewes

Two big barns, with hay-covered pens, were filled with expectant ewes–some would have triplets and some would have twins.

As you walked around, it was possible to see ewes in labour. When we were there, there were no births, but we did see some very recently born little ones.A photo of a newborn lamb

Many of the lambs were sleeping (being born is hard work) or having some milk. 

There was one lamb who was very noisy, friendly and active (see below…this was the only non-blurry photo I could get of the little guy).A photo of a lamb

There were some sheep and three older lambs (can you spot them?) out in the field. They were very curious about us. A photo of curious sheep

I loved visiting this farm! 

It’s hard to believe that spring is nearly here especially because it’s snowing today!

When we visited on Saturday, the grass was green, yellow daffodils were standing tall, the sky was grey and A photo of flowersthe only snow was the dainty snowdrops announcing that spring is almost here.

Have you ever seen the birth of an animal?  Do you know any spring lambs?  I’d love to hear!

PS. Deanne once helped a ewe in labour: reaching in and re-arranging the little legs so that the ewe could deliver the lamb properly. Go Mom!

Real Food Is…

8 Mar

by Deanne

Real food is….food prepared in a kitchen using simple culinary skills and whole food ingredients. For flavor, real food utilizes dried spices or fresh herbs instead of added salt, sugar, and fat. Photo of spices

-as defined by owners of Solar’s Real Food

In our last post we asked how you define real food.   We didn’t get much conversation going, but a lot of views on the blog.  While the definition may change as we venture into the world of real food, we are starting small by making a distinction between food that is prepared vs. food that is processed.  

Processed food is …. a food-like substance engineered in a lab, prepared in a factory and re-heated or combined with other ingredients in a restaurant or home kitchen. Processed food became a larger part of our collective lives during the 20th century.  Now in the 21st century, processed food is under increased scrutiny for health concerns.

Last week Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us was published by author Michael Moss.  The book tells the fascinating story about the business of selling food. If you don’t have time to read the whole book you can read this excerpt called The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.

Most food companies are doing what businesses do: maximize profits by meeting customer’s needs. Unless they are a smaller food company with a distinct mission, they are probably not set up to give us healthy food choices, those choices are for individual consumers sort out for themselves.

Link to Photo from nytimes articleLike most people, I didn’t pay much attention to all this processed food.  In fact I remember when Oscar Mayer came out with Lunchables. I actually got excited about the ease of use and bought them for special treats.

According the the excerpt from the book, many of us have been buying food that has been engineered to taste good, convenient, and as affordable as possible. As a result, we have become addicted to these food choices. That is really good for food companies and their shareholders but maybe not so good for us  in the long run when it comes to our health.

When enough people want something different, the food companies will scramble to change so they can continue to make money. However because of the addictive nature of processed foods, change is really hard.

I know I have felt overwhelmed by the ubiquity of processed foods in our  busy lives and cravings for tasty convenient food. Confession time…as I write this, I am nibbling on empty sugar calories.

This summer our business will run a mostly real food cafe. We hope people discover that real food can taste good.  Our new menu will feature both real food and processed food on the menu.  When meeting the needs of people with allergies and  food intolerance, and those on special diets,  real food with simple ingredients, makes it easier for people to determine what to order.

As an example, a person could order chicken strips and fries…a fairly traditional fast processed food or a Southwest Rice Plate which is less processed and prepared in our kitchen. The ingredients for the rice plate will be listed on the menu and include things you might find in your own kitchen.  The ingredients on the bag of the chicken strips is not as easy to understand but we do make it available for those that ask.

Solar Gardens-1

In the summer, when the farmers market returns and our garden is producing, we will also feature FarmerChef specials like we did last year.  Change is slow but because we are starting to want these kind of choices when we eat out and travel, we want to provide them to our customers.  

How about you, do you look for restaurants that offer more real food options?