Category Archives: Home Cooking

ACME Farms + Kitchen Locavore Boxes

ACME Farms + Kitchen is a new source for Portland home cooks to get local, seasonal ingredients they can use to create home-cooked meals. If you need meal preparation inspiration beyond a trip to the farmer’s market or a CSA, it is a good choice.

The company has been serving the Seattle and Bellingham areas and began the Portland service area in February. Unlike national meal kit companies such as Blue Apron or Plated, what arrives in an ACME Farms + Kitchen box is sourced from the surrounding area. Fresh local and seasonal vegetables, meat, seafood, artisan cheese, fresh pasta, baked goods and other ingredients come small farms and producers from just down the road. They arrive via a local driver at your doorstep within the service area.

The boxes come in two sizes and a couple of choices. You can buy a one-time purchase or sign up for a subscription to receive a box every 7, 14, or 28 days, which can be canceled or modified at any time.

  • The large locavore box has ingredients and recipes for five meals. You have a choice of regular, dairy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and gluten-free, and double protein.
  • The small locavore box has ingredients and recipes for three or more meals. You have a choice of Surf (with one selection of fish or shellfish), Turf (with one selection of meat), small gluten free with one protein of either meat or fish, vegetarian, or vegetarian gluten free.
  • The paleo box is more expensive as it contains a roast, fish or shellfish, and three cuts of meat in addition to seasonal produce.

When you get the box, the recipe sheet notes what other pantry items will be needed to make the recipes. These are things such as milk, broth, spices, oil and butter.

Each meal will feed a family of three to four people, so a small box provides enough leftovers for most of the meals for a week for a couple. A small box every-other-week would be suitable for a single person. Often there is a soup recipe or an entree that could be portioned and frozen for later lunches, etc.

An Example of a Small Locavore Turf Box

The box arrives with the meat usually frozen and on a cold pack. It is a delight to unbox it and see the vegetables and artisanal products included.

A small locavore turf box back in February contained the makings for these meals:

  • Winter squash carbonara with sage: fettuccine pasta from Pasta del Sol, butternut squash, shallot, garlic, sage. You could add on local bacon to the order or provide your own from your pantry. You provided parmesan cheese, broth, and oil as well. The preparation required a skillet, pasta cooking pot, and blender. The resulting pasta would easily feed four people, and was colorful enough to be served to guests.
  • Shepherd’s Pie: Deck Family Farms ground beef, yukon potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic and organic kale. You provide dried thyme, olive oil, butter, cornstarch, milk. You needed a pot to boil the potatoes, skillet, pie plate to bake in oven. The dish was hearty and very satisfying.
  • Quiche Lorraine with Green Salad: Pie dough from Sweetheart Bake Shop, pasture-raised eggs from Deck Family Farms, Ancient Heritage Willow cheese, onion, leek, lettuce. You provide olive oil, milk, sour cream, bacon (which could be added on), and salad dressing. You needed a skillet and pie pan to prepare it.

The technical cooking skill level for these dishes is beginner to intermediate. You need a kitchen well-stocked with pans, skillets, knives, and often a food processor or blender is needed. The instructions give tips on getting a head start for recipes that will need the beans soaked, etc.

By serving time, a home cook will feel they have made a great from-scratch meal they can be proud of from local and seasonal ingredients. For those who have family members with off-beat food allergies, you are able to modify the recipes to suit and season them as you prefer, or use the ingredients in your own recipes.

The meals generally seem to include a dinner or two and a breakfast or brunch item. The ACME Farms + Kitchen service can be a great way to be inspired in creating home-cooked meals from local, seasonal ingredients.

Cooking with Chef Wendy at Bounty of Yamhill County

The Bounty of Yamhill County made it to the big leagues of food festivals this year. It had to live up to being ranked #2 nationwide by USA TODAY. But what’s not to love about local (but world-class) wine, chefs and farms?

I was invited to the Food + Wine Pairing class on Sunday, Aug. 30th, 2015 at Dobbes Family Estate. Chef Wendy Bennett led the interactive cooking class while the winery poured their excellent vintages.

Dobbes 2013 Grenache Blanc
Dobbes 2013 Grenache Blanc

The class got rolling at 10 am, which is not too early to enjoy the 2013 Dobbes Grenache Blanc. The class was set up in the cellar room amidst the wine barrels.

While we enjoyed snacks of Moroccan-spiced popcorn and peaches wrapped in proscuitto, Chef Wendy explained how we were going to cook our own Mediterranean-inspired lunch with the bounty from local farms. Ruh-roh! I guess I’d be the second Chef Wendy for the day. Luckily, I’d just be part of a team.

Moroccan-spiced popcorn and proscuitto wraps
Moroccan-spiced popcorn and proscuitto wraps

Chef Wendy’s popcorn secret is to pop it in duck fat, then add olive oil and spice mixture to season instead of butter.

Chef Wendy Bennett
Chef Wendy Bennett

I enjoyed the REAL Chef Wendy’s demonstration of how to grind the lamb, make the couscous, panzanella salad and chocolate budino. The recipes were elegant but easy enough for beginners. By the end of the demo I thought I could take the recipes and put together a great brunch for friends.  This made me look forward to taking a class at her Wine Country Cooking Studio in Dundee.

Cooking at Dobbes
Cooking at Dobbes

We split into three teams to get cooking. The ingredients were laid out for us and pre-measured. That didn’t stop us from making some mistakes, but in the end everything tasted fantastic. I avoided the knife-work and managed not to draw blood with the mandolin slicer.

Panzanella Salad
Panzanella Salad

The Panzanella-inspired salad with grilled bread, fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, summer greens, quick summer pickles and kalamata olive and caper salsa was super. It truly celebrated the tomato crop.  I somehow have avoided making my own pickles since we canned them when I was a kid. Now I’ll be brave to do a quick pickle.

Grilled Lamb Koftka with tzatziki sauce and couscous
Grilled Lamb Koftka with tzatziki sauce and couscous and Dobbes 2011 Pinot Noir

The lamb koftka were easy to prepare (if you have either ground lamb or a meat grinder). I loved the seasoning. I’m a big fan of couscous and I appreciated the cilantro and lemon juice seasoning.

The Dobbes 2011 Meyer Vineyard Pinot Noir is a good accompaniment to meat and a beautiful expression of our great local wine.

Dark chocolate budino
Dark chocolate budino

A dark chocolate budino is a decadent finish, especially on the heels of great red wine.

The cooking class was a blast and it whet my appetite for future classes with the real Chef Wendy. I took home great recipes that I’ll be able to use. I look forward to the August 26-28th, 2016 Bounty of Yamhill County, it will be worth the trip!

The culinary festival benefits Yamhill Enrichment Society (YES). This charity has a Books for Babies program to send home books with every baby born at McMinnville Hospital. Books in the home are the biggest predictor of success in school and life, and this is a cause everyone needs to support. They further sponsor programs in building equitable food systems, music enrichment and living history. It feels great to enjoy an event that has year-round benefits to the local community.

Quaffing Kefir and Smoothies

I’ve been working hard to take off excess weight, primarily with the Medifast “Take Shape for Life” program as well as Farm to Fit local meal service. This new program gave me impetus to enjoy smoothies as snack meals and get creative with ways to make them nutritious.

Enter the kefir. I got samples of Lifeway Protein Kefir, a natural probiotic kefir packaged in 16 fluid ounce containers. It has very little added cane sugar and is 1:1 protein to carbohydrate content.

Kefir is a fermented milk product, much like yogurt but with more active yeast and bacteria cultures. It is thinner than most yogurt, a thick liquid that can be a little fizzy from active fermentation. As a former microbiology technologist, I am a believer in keeping your gut microbes happy.

There are entire new theories of many diseases that think they are caused by or made worse by having off-balance gut microbes. Probiotic foods like kefir can introduce good microbes back into your personal ecosystem and may help restore the balance.  There isn’t a lot of research on it, just many food traditions and newer theories.

It is also naturally low in lactose because the probiotic microbes have digested most of it. That is good for those, like me, who avoid milk due to lactose intolerance.

The Lifeway Protein Kefir comes in flavors such as Salted Caramel, Banana, Berry and Vanilla. It is tart but pleasant. They encourage you to drink half of a 16-ounce container after exercise to provide 20 grams of protein to restore and build muscle. That is 160 calories.

I also used it as a quick diet snack, drinking about four ounces of it for a quick 10 grams of protein/10 grams of carbs. That can help stave off hunger while providing calcium and B-vitamins.

But it also makes a good low-lactose substitute for milk when making a smoothie. I’ve been playing with kale and banana smoothies and pumpkin smoothies. The kefir provides a great protein base and smooth texture. I freeze the bananas and pumpkin to add in when blending, along with some ice chips.

While some athletes use protein powder in smoothies, I am just very distrustful of it. I’d have to be sure they weren’t sourcing any protein from China (where it might be adulterated) and that it doesn’t have any additives. I like the Lifeway kefir for using natural flavors and a very short list of ingredients.

While Lifeway kefir is low in carbohydrates and added sugar, some kefir you may see in the market might have more sweetener added. Be sure to read the label.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer.

Fried Chicken at Home with Emeril

Fried Chicken and FriesAfter I attended the Portland Food Adventure’s In the Kitchen with Sarah Schafer, my husband asked that I attempt fried chicken. Chef Sarah uses a deep fryer and I was loathe to buy one at first. Instead, I got a deep heavy aluminum skillet that I could also use in the oven for restaurant-finished steak.

However, the skillet could only be heated on medium to medium-low on the stovetop. It took all of half time for the Super Bowl for it to heat the oil to temp. And then when I put the buttermilk-soaked, flour-and-cornstarch coated chicken into the oil, the temp dropped precipitously and never came back up fully. It took a lot longer than the 20 minutes promised to cook the chicken. It turned out tasty, but it was obvious I needed a deep fryer to do it right.

My buddy Elizabeth Rose suggested QVC’s Emeril by T-fal FR702D001 1.8-Liter Deep Fryer with Integrated Oil Filtration System, Silver. I ordered it and it arrived on Friday.
Emeril Deep Fryer by T-Fal
The features that sold me were that it comes apart for cleaning in the dishwasher and it has an automatic oil filtration system. I hated having to discard the oil after using the skillet. With the Emeril deep fryer, it drains into an oil storage box you can then refrigerate until the next use.

I unboxed the Emeril fryer and sent the parts through the dishwasher, other than the heating unit itself. I bought a whole fryer cut-up and I froze the back and gizzards for making stock someday. I soaked the chicken in buttermilk with thyme and salt for 24 hours, using a gallon zip-lock bag.

I reassembled the fryer and plugged it in. It has a safety cord that is attached with magnets, loose enough so if it gets knocked off the counter, it disconnects so you have less risk of fire or burns.

The oil came up to temp in just a few minutes. I set it at 356 as the booklet seemed to recommend for chicken drumsticks. But I think that was a little too high for the canola oil I used, and I got a little char on my chicken.

I seasoned my chicken pieces with a mixture of salt, cayenne pepper, garlic salt and cumin. I seasoned those for Rich with only garlic salt. I dredged them in a mixture of 2:1 flour to cornstarch as recommended by Chef Sarah.

I fried up a breast and then turned it down a notch the wings and drumsticks. Only one breast fit into the basket, but both wings and both drumsticks went into the same batch. I used a digital meat thermometer to ensure I had the breast fully cooked inside.

Next, Rich bought frozen crinkle fries from Costco and I filled the fry basket half full as recommended. They cooked up crisp in 3 minutes as promised.

I drained all of the fried foods on a cooling grate over an aluminum pan. Very little oil dripped off, and the food was not greasy to the touch at all. Even 30 minutes after finishing cooking the breast, Rich reported it was still plenty hot inside when he ate it. So, no worries if you have to cook in batches.
Fried Chicken on Grate

The result – delicious. Even with the coating a bit overcooked, the chicken was moist inside and the skin and coating very flavorful. I overfilled the basket for the second batch of fries, which was definitely a mistake as they took longer to cook and didn’t crisp up well until I removed half of them.

I then unplugged the fryer while we ate. For the oil filtration, you allow it to cool for at least two hours, then flip the switch to filter. However, I discovered that I had the fryer bowl backward so it didn’t drain. After some trial and error and consulting the internets (the instruction book wasn’t helpful), I realized the error, turned it around, and it drained in about 15 minutes. One user said she uses the dregs for gravy. As mine was a bit charred, I discarded them. But when I make my next batch at lower temp, I will definitely save them for gravy.

Best of all, it all cleans up in the dishwasher and my oil is ready for reuse. That makes it easy to do a batch of fries for Rich even when I’m not interested in making anything else fried.
See it on Emeril by T-fal FR702D001 1.8-Liter Deep Fryer with Integrated Oil Filtration System, Silver