Strawberry Fields and Getting to Know Your Food

On May 26, 2015, in Family, Food, by Chris Baccus
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With the long three day Memorial weekend, we were kind of struck with what to do since we didn’t head out of town or had any big plans for the holiday. Saturday we saw the film Tomorrowland which the boys liked but I started to fall asleep during. Sunday and Monday were blank canvases until my wife mentioned a strawberry farm in Irvine. I wasn’t really that interested in strawberry picking, and if I’m being honest, I was more interested in it being in Irvine which was close to Santa Ana and a butcher I have wanted to go to.

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So we decided to head to Tanaka Farms with a stop afterwards at Electric City Butcher.

Tanaka Farms practices what they call “responsible farming” that you can learn more about here. Basically they practice many organic farming methods, but will use stronger pesticides if a crop is failing. They also are much more than just strawberry fields. They grow a variety of fruit and vegetables and have a small market that sells the produce on property.  You can also take a tour for $18 per person (kids 2 and under are free.)

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We opted for the tour which included a ride on carts pulled by a tractor.  Our tour guide explained the farm’s approach as well as showing us all of the various crops they grow.  The tractor made a couple stops along the way where everyone had a chance to taste whatever was in season. For us, we tried carrots, corn, green onions, celery, and cilantro.  You can really taste the freshness when it is immediately picked.  The difference is amazing!

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Eventually we ended up at the strawberry fields where each of us had a 1 lb container to fill.  What’s great about Tanaka Farms compared to some other U-Pick places we’ve been is that they actually have plenty of beautiful fruit ready to pick.  It wasn’t the typical overpicked farm we usually experience. Or at least it wasn’t that way when we were there.  So we came home with some beautiful, tasty strawberries that later became homemade jam, because what else are you supposed to do with 4 lbs (4 1/2 lbs to be exact) of strawberries?

What I love best about experiences like this is that our boys get a chance to learn where food comes from, plus they get exposed to new food they might of passed on at the dinner table.  For instance, Oscar enjoyed the green onion and probably would’ve put up quite a fight to try it if it wasn’t for it being passed around on a farm.  Theo wasn’t a fan, but at least he tried the onion and some other vegetables too.

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We are lucky in that our boys eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables everyday. They eat tomatoes, green peppers, snap peas, and cut up fruit with every lunch and dinner.  They’re pretty good about it with the things they’ve tried and liked. Getting them to add some new options is where the problem is.  I’m guessing it’s because most of the time a parent is asking to try something new it is poorly received, so the instinct to new food is negative. That’s what’s nice about excursions like this.  It’s not about us as parents asking to try something new; instead, it’s the experience that opens up experimentation.

In the end, we came home with a lot of fresh strawberries that ended up in a stockpile of jam jars.  Here is the recipe of for what we made.

Strawberry Jam
Makes about 80 ounces

4 1/2 lbs of fresh strawberries, hole to remove stems
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
6 cups sugar

Place jars in a large stock pot covering them fully in water. Add a small splash of vinegar to avoid water from getting any film, this is definitely necessary in Southern California. Heat to a boil and then reduce to gentle boil until ready to use.  In a separate pan, bring lids to a gentle boil and leave in pan until needed.

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Cut the strawberries to remove stems and rinse fully in water using a colander.  Place the strawberries in a large pot and heat on medium-low setting.  Mash the berries to your desired chunkiness. You can also gently puree them using an electric hand mixer. Though I would just use a potato masher.  Mix in the sugar and lemon juice. As the berries heat, a pink bubbly film will rise to the top. Keep skimming that off with a large spoon and discard into a bowl next to your pot. After 30 minutes you should start testing.

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Put a small plate in the freezer and remove it after a minute or two. You’ll want to test your jam to see if it is runny.  Basically, you want the jam to hold on the plate when you tilt it vertically.  Continue to test until the jam doesn’t run down the plate.

Remove the jars from the water and fill jars with the jam leaving about a 1/4 of an inch from the top.  Remove lids from water and place on top of jars.  Then seal each jar. Tighten by hand and then slightly loosen just a small amount so the jar lids are not on overly tight. They will seal properly when boiled during the final step.

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Submerge the closed jars of jam into water in large pots and heat to a boil.  Heat in a full, rough boil for 15 minutes making sure the jars are fully covered by water. When finished, remove using jar tongs or kitchen tongs. Wipe up and moister and label the tops and date. Jam will keep for at least a year and likely longer.

 

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Strawberry Quinoa Balsamic Salad

On February 18, 2015, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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“That’s the worst!  I will never ever eat that again in my whole life!”

Famous last words from my soon to be 9 year old son.  Oscar, our other child, didn’t like it either.  So this was a complete fail if you are going to try it on kids or at least my kids. Maybe you’ll have better luck than we did at the dinner table. Fortunately, they had some “peace noodles” from Annie’s Organics. Oh well, we tried.

What they rejected my wife and I enjoyed.  This is light, summer dish made for a great tasting main course with some rustic bread we picked up from the South Pasadena Farmers Market. You can use this recipe for lunch, dinner and probably even breakfast. The combination of strawberries, cucumbers and spinach made for a light but filling meal.

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Combine it with some mozzarella cheese and you have an excellent way to enjoy quinoa, that is if you’re older than 10 and don’t think quinoa is the yuckiest thing on the planet.

The adventurous might also want to experiment with the dressing.  The recipe is a simple honey balsamic vinegar dressing.  A citrus based dressing would work will too and is something I will try next time when I make this again.  Considering it’s 80 degrees in Los Angeles in February, I won’t have to wait until summer…

Full Recipe: [Strawberry Quinoa Balsamic Salad]

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Balsamic Strawberry Chicken using a SousVide Supreme

On June 8, 2013, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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Making a juicy grilled chicken is not an easy undertaking, even by someone with some serious grilling skills. It’s not difficult getting some great grill marks, but keeping the inside tender while the grill marks are forming often makes for a fairly dry chicken breast. This is where sous-vide cooking can add a guaranteed juiciness to your chicken grilling.

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Sous-vide cooking is a French method that slowly cooks vacuum sealed meat or vegetables in a water bath. It keeps meat nice and tender plus it allows for a wide range of cooking time to so the food can cook while you carryon about your day.  This worked really well for me this weekend as I spent most of the day at work. To come home to most of my meal already done was a nice way to enjoy the rest of my Saturday.

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The chicken and strawberries came from the South Pasadena Farmers’ Market. The strawberries are perfect right now full of rich redness and  I found an organic Fragaria Virginiana variety. These sweet, smaller species of strawberries have a much better flavor than what you find at most grocery stores.

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This is my second dish using the SousVide Supreme and I really do like how tender everything is that comes of out of it. The slow cooking water bath technique is simple. Cutting into tonight’s chicken, even after putting it on the grill to get some nice grill marks, I could see the juices run down the chicken after slicing each bite.  Combined with the rich flavors of the balsamic strawberry sauce the meal was easy to make after a long unusual Saturday at work.

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It only took about 20 minutes to sear the chicken and prepare the sauce. It looked like I spent a lot of time on the dish, but it didn’t take away time I want to spend with my wife and boys.

Later this month, I’m competing with several other BBQ bloggers at http://www.sousvidesupreme.com/sousvidebbq.htm. Check back after June 25 to see what recipe I decide to enter and send me a vote if you want. As a bonus, each person who casts a vote for their fan favorite will be entered to win a $200 gift certificate to www.sousvidesupreme.com.

DISCLAIMER: I was sent the SousVide Supreme to try as part of a blogger outreach program from the company.  The opinions are my own.

Balsamic Strawberry Chicken

Prep Time: 20 Mins Cooking Time: 6 Hours 30 Mins Total Time: 4 Hours 50 Mins

Ingredients:

  • 4 bone-in chicken breasts, skinless
  • 2 cups strawberries, halved
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 shallot, mined
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup red wine, Chianti or Cabernet work best
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Seal chicken breasts in vacuum bag. Heat the vacuumed chicken in a SousVide Supreme at 146 degrees for 4-6 hours. 
  2. Heat the grill on high.
  3. In a small sauce pan on medium-high heat add olive oil, garlic and shallot and cook for about 4 minutes, careful not to burn. Add 1 cup of strawberries, thyme, bay leaf and balsamic vinegar for about 3 minutes reducing vinegar by half. Add red wine and chicken stock and reduce by half for about 7 minutes. Smash the strawberries in the pan using a potato masher or fork to crush strawberries while leaving some small chunks. Reduce pan heat to low.
  4. Remove chicken from SousVide Supreme and pour a small amount of balsamic strawberry sauce over breasts to coat before placing on grill.
  5. Grill chicken on each side for about 7 minutes each side to get some nice grill marks.
  6. While on grill, add the rest of the strawberries to the sauce and cook on medium heat for about 3 minutes before serving.
  7. Plate the chicken adding the rest of the sauce to the chickens.