My Summer Kitchen.

Each time I’ve made my morning commute to the farm, I’ve thought about how strange it is that this quaint little farm country is just 30 minutes south of the hustle and bustle of Charlotte.  I leave my house and turn onto a windy road, that eventually leads me to this…

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Farm country!  It is SO different from the city, and it’s weird that it is less than 20 miles away.  It is a nice and peaceful drive – even though I drive 30 minutes each way, I only have to make two turns!

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When I got to work this morning, I was immediately sent out to the shed to help the field crew get ready for the big CSA drop that happens tomorrow.  Since the bins will all be filled and delivered tomorrow, we spent today picking the produce that will go to the CSA customers.  I started with collard greens, but since they were almost done with those, I only picked about 20 or so bundles. 

Next up I moved up to the front field.  I worked along side the farm intern and all of the field guys, and got to know them a bit better as I helped harvest spring onions and carrots. 

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I learned what to look for to know that the plants were mature and ready to be picked.  Obviously I know that vegetables come from the ground, but it was really cool to physically pull carrots straight out of the dirt!  I was totally bummed that I couldn’t take pictures this morning, because a certain yellow dog destroyed my point and shoot pocket camera.  Hopefully I can get another one soon, so I can have it handy out in the field.  For now, you’ll have to use your imaginations!

After being out in the hot sun and dirt all morning, I was more than ready to head in for lunch around noon.  Unfortunately, I’m still not at all in work mode quite yet, so I had a really pathetic lunch packed – a grapefruit, a peach, and a Larabar

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This was the chocolate chip cookie dough Larabar, and while it was by no means a nutritionally balanced lunch substitute, it was quite tasty.  I kind of felt like I was eating a Snickers bar for lunch!

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My afternoon was spent preparing dinner for the farm owners and their family, using ingredients that I pulled out of the ground with my own two hands – beets, fennel, and fresh herbs!

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This was my first time working in this kitchen, so it took me a long time to get situated and figure out where everything was. 

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Look at the BEAUTIFUL kitchen I get to cook in!  Gigantic Viking stove with 6 burners and a grill top.  Two ovens, four sinks, two dishwashers, copper All-Clad pots and pans – amazing.  Check out the super cool refrigerator on the left, that blends in like the cabinets – love it. 

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One of the best perks of the job – wearing exactly what I want to wear!  I spent my afternoon cooking in shorts and a tank top, with no gigantic school pants and crazy clown shoes

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Cooking in my old running shoes – doesn’t get better than that!

I chopped off the beet greens and set them aside for later, and got to work scrubbing and washing the beets.

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I quartered the beets and added them to a bowl with chopped carrots, salt, pepper, olive oil, and a little bit of sugar.  Then just like I did last night during my practice run, I roasted them at 500 degrees for 20 minutes.

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While my veggies roasted, I got to work on my chicken dish.  I started by chopping up the fresh fennel, along with onions and orange segments.

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For my recipe, I just needed four boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but the only thing that was available were whole chickens.  Good thing I got a lot of practice breaking these down in school!  I set myself up the same way I would have in my classroom – cutting board, scrap bowl, useable product bowl…

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I realized once I started breaking this down that I was used to working with the exact same type of chicken every single day.  At school, we must have had chickens come from one provider all year long.  Well this organic, hormone-free chicken was much tougher to break down than the ones I was used to – so many more tough tendons and organs (even a scary NECK!), and a lot less meat for the size of the bird. 

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Luckily I got TWO whole chickens broken down without cutting off a finger – thank god for culinary school!

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With all the prep work done, I was finally ready to COOK!  I heated up my pan for my chicken, and got my millet out to be toasted.  LOVE this grain.

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This range actually has a “simmer” setting for the burners – so cool!

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I seared the chicken in a hot pan until it had good browning on both sides, and then transferred it from the pan to a clean plate.

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I added the fennel and onions to the original chicken pan, and cooked them for about 5 minutes until they were soft.

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Then I added orange juice to the pan to deglaze, and added the chicken back into the pan to finish cooking, and topped it with orange segments. 

At this point, my roasted vegetable salad was done, so I pulled it out of the oven.  Last night during my test run at home, I used arugula as the wilted green, but I didn’t have any available at work.  I used loose leaf endive instead, and it worked like a charm!

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Cooking this meal by myself was definitely a lesson in multitasking – everything seemed to be ready and needing my attention all at the same time!  Once the millet was cooked, I added fresh thyme, grated parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and a little bit of butter – delicious!

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I transferred the beet, carrot, and endive salad to a serving dish, and put it into the refrigerator with reheating instructions to be followed when the family was ready to eat dinner.

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Orange and fennel chicken, finished with fennel fronds on top.

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All three of these dishes were chosen by me, and were approved by the farm owner.  It’s great that I have so much creative freedom, as it will really let me focus on my areas of weakness, so that I can try ingredients and cooking techniques that are less familiar to me. 

Tomorrow I am heading into work in the afternoon, because I will be there until very late at night.  We have our first Farm to Table Community Dinner, and I will be acting as an assistant to Suzanne Dillingham, known as The Tiny Chef!  I am really excited to assist with this important event, and I am sure there is so much I can learn from Chef Dillingham.  Every day is something new, and it is all so much FUN!