Archive | November, 2013

Giving Thanks: A Virtual Farm Tour

28 Nov
by Deanne

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Join me on a virtual tour in honor of the farmers who supply locally grown produce to three of the restaurants we’ve reviewed from California to Arizona and then on to Arkansas. 

The dedication farmers give to their work can not be measured in dollars earned.  For me, it is so easy to lose my connection to the land and forget how hard it is to grow food. So today,  I want to give reverence for the bounty all farmers produce.  For them it is not about preparing for some odd Thursday in November, instead, they just keep giving to us all year long.  Even those of us that live in the cold states, we still get to enjoy apples and root veggies this time of year.

A photo of the garden

Since it is November, let’s start in warm and sunny Napa Valley and take a peek at the garden that grows right outside a restaurant.  This special place has two acres that provide 20 percent of the restaurant’s produce year-round and inspiration for the restaurant’s culinary team.  Francine visited Mustards Grill: Napa Valley, CA  and provided a review.  She snapped the above picture of the garden.

Next, join me as we will  head to Arizona for a look at a family farm that provides a supply of fresh produce for Desert Roots Kitchen:  Tempe, AZ 

I am glad I went on this virtual farm tour because I got a chance to read the blog of from Sunizona Family Farm.  This picture comes from a  blog post about the day a team of three guys harvested over seven tons of spaghetti squash in one day.  Check it out, it is quite impressive!

Photo of Squash HarvestNow let’s travel a little further east to Arkansas where I reviewed The Root – A Local Cafe:Little Rock, AK  

The Root has a whole list of farmers on their website.  For you meat lovers out there who are joining this virtual tour, I selected Falling Sky Farms and a picture from their facebook page that shows the turkeys growing earlier this fall.

Photo of turkeys from Falling Sky Farms

Mixed Up Kimchi

20 Nov
by Deanne

Now that we are not running a restaurant and not living near our garden, we signed up for four weeks of a late season community supported agriculture (CSA) membership.  photo of CSA box

It is a great way to challenge our cooking and preparation skills. Steve wanted to see if he could get creative with the ingredients from our CSA box and make kimchi. Instead of using napa cabbage, this version has turnips cut into matchsticks, kohlrabi shredded, a head of regular cabbage course chopped. Our recipe is “mixed up” because we used more than just cabbage. 

Our family first learned about kimchi when Francine was in college and became friends with several people from South Korea. If you haven’t tried kimchi before it is is a traditional Korean dish of fermented chilli peppers with cabbage. The dish is as large of a part of Korean culture as cheese is to the culture which we were raised.  While it is mostly served as a side dish, it can also be used as a basis for other meals such as fried rice, broths and stews.

I didn’t think I was a fan of Kimchi. I have tried to experience the appeal in the past but didn’t think I had acquired a taste for the dish. This batch convinced me otherwise.  I love the ginger that lingers and I appreciate that it is not quite as hot as other versions I have sampled. The very day Steve  made it, I saw a blogger (Teacup Chronicles) who used kimchi  to make tacos.  For the last week I have been eating just a bit for breakfast or lunch as an easy was to add more veggies when ever possible.

Photo of Kimchi

Mixed Up Kimchi

(makes about 3 quarts)

1 head regular cabbage

1 kohlrabi

8 turnips

1/2 cup salt

4 quarts water

1 lb scallions

Kimchi Sauce

5 inches of ginger

6 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/4 cup red Korean chili paste

1/2 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sweet rice flour

1/2 cup water

Find a container to dissolve the 1/2 cup salt in 4 quarts of water.  After chopping the cabbage, kohlrabi, and turnips, toss and let soak in the water/salt mixture for an hour or two. It goes against our intuition but this process actually takes the extra water out of the veggies. Save the scallions until you combine everything at the end of the process.

Photo of Kimchi Tacos

To make the sauce you will begin by heating rice vinegar, sweet glutinous rice flour or (1/2 cup cooked rice liquified in a blender) and 1/2 cup water.  Heat until the sauce is thickened and then add ginger, garlic, Korean paste, fish sauce and sugar.  Combine all and set aside while you finish preparing the greens (cabbage, kohlrabi, and turnips).

Drain, rinse and dry the greens in a salad spinner. Add sauce and one bunch of scallions diced, mix together and put in container that allows you to press the mixture down and leave on counter for a couple days till it bubbles nicely and then place in fridge

We added a little pork and some salad greens on two white corn tortillas to make kimchi tacos. Here is the blog post that inspired us but we topped ours with sesame seeds and added sesame oil, rice vinegar, and lime to the salad greens.

Let us know if you like kimchi or if you are willing to try it.  Keep in mind, it could take awhile to get used to it.  Once you do, you will crave its fermented goodness.

Honest Abe’s: Lincoln, NE

18 Nov
by Deanne

Honest Abe’s:  Lincoln, NE

Yet another restaurant review!  The third one in a row.  First was Omaha, then Minneapolis, and now Lincoln.  The drill is the same, I look online for restaurants that would be worth reviewing when I am traveling.  

Driving through Lincoln the other day, I found Honest Abe’s which is part of the Ground Up Restaurant group.  I selected Honest Abe’s because on their website they described it using words like “good food” and “roots.” I interpreted that to mean locally sourced food.

Photo of Honest AbesReview: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)

Localness: 2

As far as I could tell from visiting, the food was honestly good tasting,  but perhaps not honestly sourced from people who are working outside the conventional food service sources. When I looked again,  I could not find any mention on the website or in the restaurant of a specific farm or of grass-fed beef.  This is not really a rant but a statement of reality .  The purpose of our restaurant reviews is to call attention to trendy local lingo and see what is really going on at various restaurant we seek out because of their language.

Flavour: 4

We ordered two fairly plain burgers with fries.  There are a lot of options and a flavor of the week.  We were a bit boring in our choice of the Greatest Burger Ever  (a bacon cheese burger) and The United States of America burger  (a traditional burger ).  Both burgers had high quality ingredients like red onions and applewood smoked bacon, and fresh romaine lettuce.   The fries were too salty but we ate them up like this was the last time we’d ever eat fries or burgers.  Photo of Honest Abe burger

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

The place was busy at 5:10 on a Wednesday evening.  We had to wait a bit for a table and then eventually shared a long table with another group of six people. That is a nice surprise because when I visit a busy place, I build anticipation that the food will be good once it arrives.

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 4

The person at the counter was friendly and helpful, the decor is cozy and fun. I liked the black chalkboard walls, mixed with white walls and the hint of Lincoln logs in the rough wooded accents. For the most part I enjoy small spaces and this place was small. One drawback, I didn’t see any rest rooms.

Overall Rating: 10+

I do recommend Honest Abe’s as a destination if you are veering off the road of the standard chain road food. For those that are choosing to eat vegetarian, according to the menu they do let you to “sub a vegan patty for free.”    Located in a strip mall about 10 miles from Interstate 80 it is a worthy side trip for those driving through or those visiting Lincoln. In the parking lot is a cute little hut that sells baked items from the same restaurant group.  It is playfully called Sasquatch.  We didn’t try any of their items but I liked the fact that one item comes in its own little jar.   It is called “cake in jar” and comes in “vampire velvet” or “blackout” flavors.

Honest Abe's on Urbanspoon

What Shall I Fix for Dinner? Phytos First!

14 Nov
by Deanne

Photo of Greens on the Grill

Phytos First is my new mantra.   Phytos is short for phytochemicals.  Here is an explanation from the American Cancer Society:

Phytochemicals are a wide variety of compounds made by plants, that may affect human health. They are found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains. Scientists have identified thousands of phytochemicals, although only a small fraction have been studied closely. Some of the better-known phytochemicals include beta carotene and other carotenoids, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), folic acid, and vitamin E.

The mantra, Phytos First, came to me after reading countless stories of people who were cured or nearly cured from medical conditions by changing the focus of their diet.  Just one of many examples is the story of Dr. Terry Wahls, an Iowa City based doctor and patient diagnosed with with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis in 2000.  By 2003 she had used chemotherapy in an attempt to slow the disease and began using a tilt-recline wheelchair because of weakness of her back muscles.   The story of her recovery is shared on a TedX talk

My brain has been trained to think about proteins first, usually in the form of meats. Now, I’d like to remind myself that proteins can come from plants too and filling my meals with plants first is something I choose to do. If you adhere to a Paleo diet, you still need to think about what fruits and veggies to add to your day, which is probably a little harder than to think about if one has been on a mostly processed food regime of eating.

A few weeks ago I picked up a book called The Plant-Powered Diet by Sharon Palmer, RD. When I heard the author speak at  the Women Food and Ag Network conference, I was excited.  Knowing how hard it is to change our diet, I looked through the book and saw recipes, and lots of charts that would be helpful in learning about the plants that might show up in my CSA box or plants that we might decide to plant in our garden.

Will you join me as I learn how to move from asking myself, what shall I fix for dinner, to asking, how can I add my phytochemicals first?  Now days, I strive to stand at the fridge full of chopped greens, cut cabbage, and a bin full of apples and I can easily put together a soup or a salad.  In the past, if I was hungry while I was cooking, I would eat crackers and cheese.  Now, I will cut an apple and spread on a little nut butter to munch on while cooking.

If you are a blogger who also wants to fill our day with Phytos First please use this hashtag to promote your posts that have veggie recipes or tips for preparing plants based foods fast:  #PhytosFirst   I will re-tweet them.

Top photo creditAmanda Petersen Photography

Verdant Tea: Minneapolis, MN

14 Nov
by Deanne

Verdant Tea: Minneapolis Tasting RoomPhoto of Verdant Tea

The last time I wrote the word verdant I was speaking of my garden and all the possibilities when it grows with abandon in midsummer.  This time, I am referring to a place I heard on MPR about the growth of the Seward neighborhood for good food. We had a quick trip planned to Minneapolis so I looked up Verdant Tea. Intrigued by the elegant selection of offerings, we arrived for breakfast last Saturday morning.

Review: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
Localness: 3

Verdant Tea does serve local food.  They have partnered with Birchwood Cafe which many readers will recognize from our past reviews.  Verdant’s focus is on tea.  They source their teas from small farmers in China.  The business began as on online tea business and has now expanded to include the tasting room.

Flavour: 5

We ordered chai tea and another kind of tea that we didn’t quite catch when it was given. Both were good, but the food was what we enjoyed most.  I ordered the sweet Congee, Steve had the Soba Noodles, and Luke ordered the Birchwood Granola with Fruit and Yogurt. Photo of Rice PorridgeCongee is a porridge and the sweet version had wild rice, brown rice, quinoa, burdock root, gogi berries, walnuts, and a coconut ginger sauce.   I was able to sneak a taste of the two other options and was equally impressed with both.  The yogurt was excellent.  It appeared to be the kind of yogurt one makes at home on the counter rather than the kind one dumps from a plastic container.

Photo of Hot Soba Noodle

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

The food was surprisingly good.  Since it is a tea room that has food we were not really sure what to expect.  We went hoping the food would be decent.  It was stellar!  We talked about it for days afterward and discussed how to recreate it at home.

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 4.5

When we walked through the doors we were greeted immediately.  The environment is serene and makes for a peaceful calm retreat or gathering place for quiet conversation.  The staff was friendly but a bit more explanation about the options would have been helpful. They explained that they didn’t have tea flights at that time and they were in the process of changing their menu.  Having owned a restaurant, I have sympathy toward the situation they are currently finding themselves but others might be more put off by that kind of response.

Photo of Birchwood Granola

Overall Rating: 12.5+

I strongly recommend visiting Verdant Tea.  I look forward to returning and learning more about tea next time I visit.  In addition to partnering with Birchwood Cafe, they also sell Sweet Science Ice Cream.  We heard about them last year at an event for new food producers.  I look forward to trying some interesting flavors like salted caramel or toasted coconut.

Verdant Tea on Urbanspoon

Kitchen Table: Omaha, NE

8 Nov
by Deanne

Kitchen Table: Omaha, NE

logo for kitchen table

When I hear about the possibility of a road trip, I start searching for a restaurant worth reviewing.  Eating at a restaurant that serves real food, added with the bonus finding a place that sources local food, is my kind of fun.  A few clicks of the computer produced a few possibilities but I was drawn to Kitchen Table because I liked their font.  Yes, a font is a small thing, but that is how advertising works. I also found a favorable review from the Omaha World Herald.

Slow food fast is how they described themselves on their website.  Once we arrived in Omaha, I took a quick drive by and yes, the place looked worth visiting. They have nice windows in the front of the restaurant and the building looked interesting. Photo of Kitchen Table's thoughts on food

Everything was in place for me to love this restaurant.   However,  I have been disappointed before so you never really know till you walk through the doors and finally taste the food.

Review: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
Localness: 4

Kitchen Table does support local, sustainable and organic businesses to procure their food. It is cool to discover new farms such as:

Big Muddy Urban Farm, Blooms Organics, Blue Valley Aquaculture, Branched Oak Farm, Burbach’s Dairy, Camp Creek Acres, GreenLeaf Farms, Myo Lean Piedmontese – Moenning Family Farm, Plum Creek Farm, Soup-N-More, Squeaky Green Organics, Truebridge Foods, Turner Acres.

As I look through these different companies I think about how a small restaurant has the potential to introduce people to many individual family owned business.  Each business is unique and worth checking out.

Flavour: 5

The dinner special was a choice of regular grass fed beef or a vegetarian burger. We ordered the vegetarian burger. We have been ordering vegetarian more and more because we find that vegetarian chefs create flavors that are more inventive and interesting.   I guess when you take away the fat and salt with many meat-y meals you have to add some seasonings and use great cooking techniques.  We also had  a sweet potato jam sandwich which came with popcorn. It was served on a excellent whole grain bread that might have even been sourdough.  A kale salad with a lemon dressing was good because of the flavor and the way the kale was cut.  The food was GOOD!  If there were any improvements to be made, it would be in the choice of bun for the burger.  It was a little crusty which works perfect for a juicy burger, but not so good for a vegetarian burger that falls apart on first bite.  It is a complaint I have explained before.  I left feeling full, satisfied and wanting to go back the next day.

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

The flavor of the popcorn was a pleasant surprise.  I noticed a bit of a licorice-y flavor which made me think:  Fennel.  When Steve stopped by to talk with the chef about the carrot “bacon” he mentioned the seasoning for the popcorn being the same as the seasoning he used to make the bacon.  “Bacon” made from a thinly sliced carrot and baked with spices and added to the burger.  See what I mean about vegetarian chefs being inventive.

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 5

When we walked through the doors we were greeted immediately and directed to the menu on the wall.  The two specials were described in fine detail.  The restaurant is in a long narrow space with exposed brick on one side, concrete floors, and wood covered walls and a bit of green from the plant display.  The kitchen is open and one could easily see what is happening. When our food arrived the whole staff delivered it to our table so as to make sure it arrived as quickly as possible.  They did live up to their pledge of serving slow food fast.

While ordering I noticed a business card for a company that takes down old barns for no charge.  Later I discovered that this company made all their lovely wood tables.  It all made sense, the name:  Kitchen Table.  They serve real food on real plates, and we sat at real wood tables.

Overall Rating: 14+

One thing that made me sad about my visit to Kitchen Table was that there were very few diners enjoying the place.  Perhaps they are busier at lunch time since it is located in the Old Market District at 1415 Farnam Street.

Kitchen Table on Urbanspoon