Sunday, August 25, 2013

Peach Salsa

It's the perfect time of year for ripe, juicy peaches.  We headed out to Hartland Orchard in Markham, VA to visit their orchard and pick our own.  I've been going out to Hartland Orchard for the past few years to do all kinds of "pick your own" -- strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and apples.  The family that owns Hartland Orchard and the farm next store, Green Truck Farm, are super nice and the farms are easy to get to -- right off Rt. 66 in VA, exit 18.  

We had a great time picking the peaches.  They were just within reach for my son, so they had a fun time selecting the perfect peaches to pull down off the tree.  Needless to say, we came home with a whole bag of plump peaches. 

Most people use peaches to make a cobbler, or a crisp, but I wanted to use the sweet flavor of a peach to balance spicy in the perfect peach salsa.  It turned out SO GOOD.  Fresh salsa is always amazing and this version, with a "sweet heat" is outstanding.  Here's the recipe:

2 ripe peaches
2 large tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion
1/2 cup of cilantro
3 cloves of garlic
1 - 1.5 jalapeno pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
pinch of salt

1.  Seed the tomato (to the extent possible... I am super lazy about this so you know, the seeds won't kill you).  Slice and dice the tomatoes and peaches (you should have about equal parts of both) into 1 inch pieces.

2.  Slice and dice the onion into very small segments.  Dice garlic.  Slice and dice jalapeno.  Add to the peaches and tomatoes.

3.  Chop cilantro and mix into the bowl with the salt and cumin. 

4.  And... you're done.  If you don't like the extra "juice" in the salsa (I think it gives it flavor, but some folks are anti-juice), let the mix sit overnight to let the flavors blend and strain before serving.  Can any extra to give to a friend (in exchange for margaritas of course!) and enjoy with chips and margaritas to celebrate the end of summer. 


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Sugar Cube

When I was growing up, I had a friend whose father owned a candy store.  The candy was in bins all across the walls, as far as the eye could see. During the summer, we used to go to the store and load up bags full of gummy bears, swedish fish, and sour patch kids.  As an extra bonus, when we went to her house to play, she had extra candy around the house that didn't sell in the store.  It was like I was in a fairytale.

I still have a terrible sweet tooth to this day (and the cavities to prove it).  There aren't many candy stores around nowadays, so when I heard about the Sugar Cube in Old Town, I was super excited.  So, I dragged my son and his friend over there as my cover one afternoon.

The Sugar Cube definitely has lots of sweets.  Canisters of chocolate and gummy candy line the walls with little scoops and plastic bags to mix and match.

They also have a glass case filled with chocolate truffles and confections.  I spied one of my favorites  in the case -- chocolate covered pretzels -- along with other delicious chocolate items like chocolate pretzel clusters and chocolate covered marshmellows.

And of course, high-end chocolate truffles with interesting flavor mixes like this one here...

Despite the great selection, and the fun we had getting our bags of candy, I was really disappointed by the customer service.  We were barely greeted by the staff (who seemed to be busy setting up a party in the back room), and I sensed a bit of arrogance or annoyance as we were rung up.  Whatever it was, I did not feel welcome or like any one cared that I was there.  With my money.

It's a candy store.  You will most likely have kids as customers.  It does not hurt to smile or show some excitement for first-time visitors.

Anyway, definitely had a great selection of candy and chocolate, but I probably wouldn't go out of my way to visit next time around.  I'll go get my sugar high some where else.   

Monday, August 19, 2013

Playing With Our Food at Polyface Farm

It was still dark out.  The sun had not yet come up, yet my alarm was going off.   And to make matters worse, it was Saturday.  Normally, I would never allow this nonsense on a Saturday, but today was different. 

Today was our day to visit Polyface Farm for the Lunatic Tour. 

So I woke up the kids (despite my better judgment), packed everyone in the car, and headed out west for the 2 1/2 hour drive down to Swoope, VA.  After a few turns down the wrong road (farm country doesn't do the best labeling with road signs), we arrived at Polyface Farms just in time to hop on the hay wagon and begin the tour.

Our family was offered the opportunity to go on this tour because we buy our meat from Polyface and apparently, in 2012, we bought every time they delivered so we got a certificate to tour the farm.  We started buying from Polyface a few years back, after my husband read The Omnivore's Dilemma and since they have a drop off near our house, we signed up.  We have been hoarding whole chickens in the freezer to get through the winter ever since.

Our tour was led by Daniel Salatin, son of Joel Salatin the sort of lead philosopher and CEO of Polyface Farms.  The whole premise at Polyface Farms is about creating a farm that leverages and mimics how the environment works naturally to create sustainable agriculture.  They focus on the soil and creating depth within that soil to support their livestock.  At first I sort of shrugged it off as some hippie mumbo-jumbo, but after I visited the farm, I understood.  And, more importantly, I had a deep appreciation and respect for what the Salatins were promoting and believed in.
School's in session with Daniel Salatin
Our tour started with the chickens.  The chickens are in these light-weight cages that are moved every morning to a new square patch of grass.  They eat grain (not organic, but GMO free after some customer surveys and lack of buy-in on the "organic" branding), and bugs that wander in the cage.  They can also eat the grass, which has been 'pre-mowed' by the cows.  And potential predators are managed by the sweetest white lab/wolf hound, Michael.  The kids were really loving the chickens...
Checking out the chickens in action
After the chickens, we headed over to see the pigs.  The pigs basically aerate the soil to create a compost pile.  Plus, they serve as delicious bacon and pork chops.  Turns out, they are also super friendly and you could just walk right up to them as they were eating.  
More friendly than you'd think
Next we visited the turkeys.  The turkeys have a roost with a large overhang to protect them from birds of prey.  I have to say, these birds were so funny to watch, they have this little system that when one of them clucks, the rest cluck back.  I think it's like a warning about an approaching predator, but it sounded to me more like a voting exercise. 
Birds of a feather, flocking together
At this point in the tour, I began to learn more about my fellow tour-mates.  There were all kinds of folks visiting the farm, from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania.  Some were interested in learning about farming techniques to raise their own chickens, and others had read The Ominvore's Dilemma and wanted to see for themselves.  Pretty much everyone knew about the Salatins and read Joel's books.  It was amazing  to listen to the impact this farm has had on people far and wide. 
The youngest kept on growling at the chickens and saying "eat meat!"
The last stop on our tour was to see the cows.  The cows' job on the farm is to eat and basically, mow the grass.  The egg laying chickens are kept with the cows (in their Eggmobile) to eat bugs and scratch through the cow paddies to sanitize the pasture.  Since the cows won't eat grass where they have walked, they are moved to a new pasture every morning (just like the chickens).  The difference in quality and taste of the grass-fed beef is apparent.  

The Salatins started off with this farm in 1961 and have built a family-owned business based on a core set of values.  Their connection and respect for the earth, animals, and natural, sustainable agriculture is visible as soon as you get to the farm and reiterated through coversations with their staff.  They talk about respecting their animals and setting up an environment where the animals do their share of the work on the farm.  This type of mutal respect is often talked about, even among people, but seldom shown in action.  Polyface Farm takes those words and makes it part of their daily life.  And the result is unparalleled in not just the agriculture industry, but in the world of businesses, cultures and communities.  They have truly found, and cultivated, something special. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Potato Vegetable Curry

Traditional curries with coconut milk and spices are delicious, but I wanted to deviate from the norm and work in some of the vegetables in my garden.  So, I'm going to share one of my go-to, 'not the standard' curry recpies that's made with a tomato and onion base. 

This potato vegetable curry recipe is adapted from my 660 Curries cookbook and I think you'll find it to be quite tasty.  The dish is hearty and filling so it's a great vegetarian main dish option, especially when scooped up with naan.  

1 large tomato, cored and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1/2 cup of fresh cilantro leaves
4 fresh green Thai or serrano chiles, stems removed
1/4 cup of water
3 small Yukon Gold potatoes
2 tablespoons of canola oil
3 small eggplants (or 1 large)
1 cup of fresh green beans
2 teaspoons of kosher salt

1.  Put chopped tomato, chopped onion, cilantro leaves, and chiles in a blender or food processor.

2.  Blend the vegetables until pureed.  Add 1/4 cup of water to loosen the sauce.

3.  Dice the 3 potatoes.  Heat the canola oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the potatoes and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes, while turning potatoes. 

4.  Add the sauce to the pan with potatoes and deglaze, scraping up brown bits of potatoes. 

5.  Cut the green beans into 3 segments and cut eggplant, removing stems, into wedges.

6.  Add green beans and eggplant to the saucepan with salt. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium low and cover.  Cook for 25 to 30 minutes until vegetables are tender.

7.  Remove from heat and serve with naan or over rice.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Korean-style fried chicken.  Say no more, I'm in and I can't wait to taste for myself.  I already have a special place in my heart for spicy Korean food and with football season fast approaching (it's preseason... time to start the count down), I can smell phantom wings in the air. 

BonChon, which originated in New Jersey (bonus points already), focuses on Korean street food, and the star of the show is fried chicken.  They just opened a new restaurant in Arlington so I went on a Friday afternoon for lunch to check it out.
By noon, the place was packed and there were no tables open. And it's clear as to why -- it was delicious.

The menu clearly states that it could take up to 35 minutes to cook the chicken, so we decided to order some appetizers (too bad the table next us didn't read ahead, the guy was tweaking out and asking our waiter 'how much longer' every 5 minutes.  It was quite annoying and as a former waitress, I can tell you now that it is NOT SMART to annoy a waiter or the kitchen.  Sure fire way to have your food messed with).

Anyhoo, we ordered the seasoned fries with spicy mayo dipping sauce and the pork buns.  The seasoned fries were yummy, topped with light parmesan cheese and highly addictive with the spicy mayo (tasted like a blend of Sririacha and mayo). 

The pork buns were also fantastic.  The light and doughy bun with the crunchy pork belly and sweet soy sauce just melted in your mouth. 

At BonChon, you choose your type of chicken (wings, strips or drum sticks) and then your sauce -- soy garlic or hot.  I was tempted to just order the hot, but I decided to be adventurous and get the medium sized order of "half and half," and give soy garlic sauce a chance. 

Wow, good thing I did.  The hot was HOT (and I can handle heat).  It was fantastic, but be clear, they are not messing around with hot.  My lips were on fire.... and I loved it.  The soy garlic chicken wings were a nice sweet way to temper the heat of the hot wings.  And the best part about the fried chicken was the skin... it was so crunchy and crisp, it crackled when you ate it.  It almost was carmelized and it was unbelieveably good.      

So there it is...
Run, don't walk to get your Korean fried chicken at Bonchon.  Get the half and half mix to create the perfect heat and sweet balance.  And enjoy with a beer! 
BonChon on Urbanspoon  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

One Year Blog Anniversary & Crumb Cake

This month is the one year anniversary of my blog!!!  And to celebrate, I thought I would share with you a special family recipe for crumb cake. 

I love the connection between food, family and childhood.  When I was growing up, I have lots of memories of cooking with my Mom-Mom.  I can remember sitting on the floor of her kitchen eating sourdough preztels out of a Charles' pretzel tin (and ruining my 'spacers' from my orthodontist).  Mom-Mom was the one who taught me the balance of sweet and salty -- her favorite snack was dipping those pretzels in vanilla ice cream, and it was absolutely delicious.

So, for the blog's one year anniversary, I thought I would have a tribute to Mom-Mom's cooking with her famous crumb cake recipe.  It's a wonderful cake to enjoy with coffee and it's super easy to make (I made some minor adjustments, as Oleo is no longer in stock, hopefully, Mom-Mom will understand).  

Thanks to all you readers who have supported me and my blog over the past year!  I'm excited for another year of happy blogging! 

1/2 cup of butter, softened
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
1 3/4 cup of flour
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of milk

Crumbs -
1 cup of flour
1/3 cup of butter, melted
1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/3 cup of sugar
1/8 cup of turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)

1.  Lightly butter and flour a spring form pan.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

3.  Cream butter and sugar with a mixer, then add eggs and vanilla.  Mix until blended.

4.  Alternatively add dry ingredients and milk to the creamed mixture. 

5.  Fold into the spring form pan and spread to edges.

6.  For the crumbs, combine sugars, cinnamon and flour in a bowl.  Melt the butter.

7.  Add the butter to the dry ingredients and blend with a fork to form large crumbs.

8.  Spread crumb mixture on top of the cake.  Place in the oven and cook for 35 minutes (until a toothpick inserted comes out clean).

9.  Allow to cool, pop off the spring form pan.

10.  Slice crumb cake, and enjoy with coffee (don't forget to get all the crumbs on your plate!)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Smoky Spicy Popcorn

Buttered and lightly salted popcorn is delicious.  And kettle corn is a nice treat at a fair (in small doses).  But what about *SPICY* popcorn?  A few restaurants serve spiced popcorn at the table with cocktails and beer, but I've always found that to be a little.. hmm.. bland.  I know there is the need to appeal to the masses, but come on... give it some punch!

Here is a great alternative to the standard buttered popcorn snack.  You can serve it at a cocktail party or bring it to tailgating as a cool treat.

(Faint-hearted beware, this recipe has a smoky start and a spicy finish!)

1 tablespoon canola oil
2/3 cup of corn kernels
1 1/2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of Spanish smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1.  Heat canola oil in a pot over medium-high heat.  Add one kernel.

2.  Heat kernel until it pops. Then add the 2/3 cup of corn kernels to the pot.  Cover with a lid. Occasionally move the pot around (like Jiffy Pop!!).

3.  Melt the butter.  Mix the salt, paprikas, cumin, garlic powder and cayenne pepper in a separate bowl.

4.  Add the spices to the melted butter and whisk to blend.

5.  When the popcorn is done popping (count to three, if no kernel pops, remove from heat - it's ready!), pour into a large bowl.

6.  Drizzle butter spice mixture over the popcorn, stirring to coat all the popcorn with the butter/spice.

7.  Serve your popcorn with some delicious beer, movie or enjoy with some friends! (or not, that part is optional, but highly recommended)