Strawberry Fields and Getting to Know Your Food

On May 26, 2015, in Family, Food, by Chris Baccus



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.


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.)


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Yankee Beef Pot Roast

On October 3, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

A simple pot roast for football Sunday

It’s football Sunday and with the Detroit Lions facing the Dallas Cowboys, it was going to be a day of sports and it was time for something basic. Something manly. Something like meat and potatoes. So I thawed a boneless beef chuck roast I bought on my last trip to Burgundy Pasture Beef Ranch and diced some vegetables.

Yankee Beef Pot Roast

Serves 4

1 boneless beef chuck shoulder pot roast (about 2 1/2 lbs)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups beef broth
1 cup dry red wine
2 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 potatoes, medium size cut into 1 inch cubes
1 onion, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into bite-size pieces
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2 inch rounds

Combine 1/4 cup flour, salt and pepper in a 1 gallon freezer bag, placing beef into bag. Seal and shake to coat. Meanwhile heat oil in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Place beef into stock pot and brown evenly.

Remove the chuck roast after browning

Remove beef from pot and deg-laze with red wine. Scrape up beef bits and then add beef stock, thyme and remaining flour. Whisk to combine and return beef to pot. Let it come to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover stock pot and cook for 2 hours.

Add the vegetables to pan and then simmer covered

Add vegetables after the 2 hour simmer. Continue simmering for 45 minutes or until vegetables and pot roast are fork tender.

Serve with fresh bread.

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Orecchiette with Kale and Cherry Tomatoes

On August 6, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

This is a very simple dish and a great way to put some fresh kale to use. It’s likely even people who do not normally like kale will find it enjoyable in this dish.

Best part this dish takes less than 15 minutes including preparation.

Orecchiette with Kale and Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 4

1 lb Orecchiette pasta
1/2 bunch of kale, cut into large pieces
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano
1 tablespoon butter
4 leaves of fresh sage

Cook pasta according to directions, most likely around 8-9 minutes.

Add garlic and a about a table of olive oil to a saute pan. Cook garlic for about 2-3 minutes making sure not to burn on medium heat. Add butter and hand tear small pieces of fresh sage into pan. Cook for about 1 minute then add kale. Cook kale for about 4 minutes turning frequently. Remove everything from the pan to a small bowl. Do not rinse saute pan.

Pasta should be done. Drain. Once pasta is finished, add remaining olive oil to saute pan. Add kale mixture and tomatoes. Cook for about 2 minutes then add pasta. Stir everything together and add Parmesan Reggiano mixing it so everything is coated.

Serve with a chunk of bread.

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Vegetarian Tacos

On July 7, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

It’s no secret I love tacos, but finding a great vegetarian taco is not easy. So many restaurants over use bell peppers or try to get to complicated with sauces or cheeses. Fortunately, I found a fairly basic recipe from the vegetarian cookbook Appetite for Reduction. I modified it quite a bit, but kept some of its essence too as I liked the minimalist but impact of the spices used.

On a side note, our son Oscar liked the tacos too with one change – “no hot stuff.”

Vegetarian Tacos
Serves 4

1 medium yellow squash, cut into small cubes
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
2 small red or yellow potatoes, cut into small cubes and cooked
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed, removing all liquid
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of salsa verde
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Cook the potatoes in a small pot for about 8-10 minutes until done.

Start by heating the olive oil and cooking the squash and jalapeno together for about 7 minutes on medium heat and adding some salt to taste. Add the cumin, coriander, black beans and cooked potatoes to the squash and jalapeno. Cook for 5 minutes on medium-low heat then add the salsa verde and cook for about a minute more.

Heat the tortillas. I prefer heating them on a gas stove top turning frequently to get a nice charred burn or two.



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Embelly White Chili

On April 18, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

We had stopped by our favorite locally focused grocery store, Urban Acres, and bought some sweet potatoes. What we did not expect was what kind of sweet potato. Apparently the Japanese Sweet Potato is a white, creamy potato that is very sweet. It has a smooth texture and tasted amazing in a vegetarian curry dish I made.

While looking for more recipes to use sweet potatoes in, my wife follows a good vegetarian blog. Emily Levenson’s blog has a post with the most amazing scones that just happen to be vegan. We wanted to try another recipe, this time a vegan soup.

For the Embelly White Chili recipe and other great cooking adventures checkout Emily Levenson’s food blog.


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Vegetable Korma

On February 15, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a vegetarian/vegan kick lately. My wife Stephanie decided to give it an extra boost for my birthday by getting me “Appetite for Reduction” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. It’s a brilliant book.

Here is one of the recipes from the book. It’s called 2nd Avenue Vegetable Korma and was an interpretation from one of the author’s favorite restaurants in New York City – Madras. Sounds like I have a new restaurant to checkout when I head back to New York in late March.

Full Recipe: 2nd Avenue Vegetable Korma.

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Lentil and Cauliflower Curry Stacks

On February 8, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

The flavors in this dish make up for its lack of beauty in presentation. The yellow curry with cinnamon really brings the dish to life.
If you don’t want to use Pappadums (a crisp Indian flatbread), you can also use the lentil mixture to fill a piecrust with for a vegetarian Indian Pie. Or you could make pastry stuff turnovers with the mixture too.

Lastly, if you want to make this dish Vegan, substitute the butter with a product like Earth’s Balance.

Lentil and Cauliflower Curry Stacks
Serves 4

2 Tbl butter (or Earths Balance for a vegan version)
1 medium onion, sliced thin in to quarter moons
1 1/2 Tbls yellow curry paste
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 cremini mushrooms, thinly chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups dried brown or green lentils
1 (13 oz) can chopped tomatoes
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 head of fresh cauliflower, cut into small florets
oil for deep-frying
8 small Pappadums

Heat butter in a large pan over medium heat and cook the onion for 2-3 minutes. Add the curry paste, garlic and mushrooms cooking all for 2 minutes until mushrooms are soft.

Add the vegetable stock, tomatoes, lentils and cinnamon and mix well. Bring to a boil and cook for 40 minutes until lentils become tender. Add the cauliflower in the last 10 minutes and cover. If the curry is too wet after 40 minutes, cook longer uncovered until most of the liquid is evaporated. Remove cinnamon sticks.

About 5 minutes before the lentil mixture is done, heat oil in a saucepan on medium-high. Drop Pappadums, one at a time, into oil. They will quickly puff up so act quick and flip using tongs to straighten out the Pappadum. Each one takes about 4 seconds on each side. Remove and pat both sides with a paper towel.

Assemble by putting one Pappadum on a plate and spoon lentil mixture into it. Place another Pappadum on top and add some more lentil mixture. Serve.


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Lentil and Rice with Garlicky Kale

On January 28, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

We are trying to add more vegetarian dishes to our weekly dinner menu. I’m finding a lot of rice and lentil dishes are a great way to do something other than the typical vegetarian pasta dish for a reluctant vegetarian.

Here is a recipe I modified quite a bit from an article in Men’s Journal magazine. I go pretty light on salt and pepper while cooking. If you like a more robust flavor, add salt and pepper at the dinner table. This dish isn’t particularly flavorful but it does have a good mix of flavors for a rice and lentil dish.

Lentil and Rice with Garlicky Kale
Serves 6

2 cups dried lentil
2 cups of cooked rice
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 leek, white and light-green parts only,
split lengthwise and cleaned
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 large bunch kale, stems removed, chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp red-wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

In a large pot place lentils, carrot, onion, leak, bay leaf and dried thyme then cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Drain water.

While the lentil mixture is cooking, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a nonstick fry pan and add garlic heating at medium temperature and let the garlic cook for about 2 minutes, do not burn. Add kale and salt and pepper cooking it for about 5 minutes until slightly wilted.

Add kale to drained lentil mixture. Add cooked rice, red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, red-wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Heat mixture at medium low heat for about 3-5 minutes for flavors to gel.

Remove from heat and serve as a vegetarian main dish or as a side dish.


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Deb’s Chicken Pot Pie

On December 6, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

Facebook is a great resource for talking food with friends and family. Fortunately, I have a good network of fellow home cooks. One such friend is Deb Tighe who kept talking about a chicken pot pie she was making over and over again. She was in a bit of a food rut, but thank god because if it wasn’t for her rut and Facebook status posts about it I would’ve never made this delicious pot pie.

Most pot pies I have had are a bit over done in the ingredients department, they are often over flavored. Other recipes are a bit too simple and well bland. This recipe has a very nice balance of flavor letting you enjoy every ingredient.

I did make a few minor tweaks to Deb’s original recipe (my changes are in the recipe here.) I added a small amount of Thyme and Oregano and also pre-boiled the potatoes so they would be fully cooked.

Enjoy and thanks again to Deb for an excellent recipe!

Deb’s Chicken Pot Pie

Serves 8 (2 pies)

1 10 oz. package frozen mixed vegetables
1/3 c. butter
1/3 c. flour
1/3 c. chopped onions
1 potato, peeled and diced into small cubes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp dried Thyme
1/4 tsp dried Oregano
1 3/4 c. chicken broth
2/3 c. milk
3 c. chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 pie crusts (9 in.)

Boil potatoes in hot water for about 8 minutes to soften. In a large skillet, melt butter and add onions, potato, flour, salt, thyme, oregano and pepper. Stir and cook until bubbly, remove from heat. Stir in chicken broth and milk. Stir constantly and heat to boiling. Boil one minute while stirring. Stir in veggies and shredded chicken.

Prepare bottom pie crust and pour chicken mixture into crust. Add top crust and crimp edges or pie. Prick top of crust. Bake at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes. Cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Chicken pot pies can also be frozen before baking for use later. When ready to use, thaw in refrigerator and bake as directed above.

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