Steppin’ Out – Farmer’s Delicatessen “Fresh European Specialties”

“I was born in a kitchen,” said Christine Ondrus-Lykos, chef and owner of Farmer’s Delicatessen, a business that prepares gourmet dishes and freezes them in convenient size portions for you to reheat at home. “It was a cultured kitchen where all kinds of different dishes were prepared, including Romanian, Hungarian and Italian.

“Our home was in a Jewish neighborhood in Queens, a borough of New York City, where I lived with my mother and my aunt, who were both Hungarian, and my grandmother, who was Romanian. I learned cooking and baking from the experts. I also had a Sicilian step-father, so I expanded my knowledge to include their food too.”

After several years traveling the world as a model, Ondrus-Lykos became an executive secretary in New York City. “Cooking was my passion and I really wanted to go to culinary school,” she added, “but it wasn’t working out that way.”

Later she moved to Los Angeles to work as a personal assistant.

“When the lady I was working for had a birthday, I made a cake for her and decorated it myself,” she continued. “She asked me where I ordered it and when I told her I made it, she was very surprised. From then on I made birthday cakes for everyone, and even a wedding cake.”

Following that she worked for a French pastry chef in Los Angeles for three months, before returning to New York City. There she met her husband who was from Greece. They worked in his brother’s pizzeria for three years, learning more and more about dough and breads. Then they moved to Greece.

“Greece was a culture shock at first,” continued Ondrus-Lykos., “but it was also an opportunity to learn even more about food. I had a lot of kitchen time and fixed a different meal every day for my husband, while also baking holiday breads and cookies for him, his friends and others.”

When the Greek economy collapsed she moved back to live near some friends in Wisconsin. There she honed her skills decorating cakes at a bakery.

“I moved to California about a years ago,” she continued. “because my mother lives in the Placerville area.

“Cooking and baking is my first love, so when I saw I could rent time in the commercial kitchen at Manzanita Kitchen and Events, I stopped by. I walked into the kitchen and it just felt right. Right then and there I decided to do what I loved.

“Life is all about having to eat, but I want people to enjoy what they eat. Also, food creates the opportunity for adventure.”

The menu at Farmer’s Delicatessen consists of authentic, table-ready, chef prepared gourmet dishes to be enjoyed at work, home or on the road. No MSG, all quality natural ingredients.

Her entrees, fully cooked and frozen, include Ragu Bolognese with Fettuccine, Lamb Meatballs with Red Wine Gravy, Keftethes (Greek Meatballs) and Csirke Paprikas (Hungarian Chicken Paprikash) with Egg Papardelle. Also available are Tzatziki (Greek Yogurt Dip), Vinetta (Romanian Eggplant Spread) and everyone’s favorite, Baklava.

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to try few of her European specialities, like baklava (yes, I ate more than one), a very nice Romanian eggplant salad known as Vinetta and the very refreshing Greek cucumber-yogurt dip, Tzatziki. I  was impressed, but not as impressed as I was when I tried three of her entrees.

The entrees I tried included: Csirke Paprikas, Lamb Meatballs and the Ragu Bolognese. She also gave me heating instructions and even a tip or two on what to eat as a side dish. When in doubt, ask the chef.

Each entree weighs one pound and designed for two people, so I planned on trying them two ways, which, as I will point out later, didn’t work for the Ragu Bolognese.

I prepared the Hungarian chicken with egg papardelle and served it with a salad of thin sliced cucumber, sweet onions and tomatoes, in a sweet vinegar dressing, along with a nice, lighter red wine.

It was delicious, and I could taste all the flavors, the chicken, the spices and the perfectly cooked pasta. It paired well with both the side dish and wine and the combination was so good I tried it the same way for lunch the next day.

For the lamb meat balls, instead of pasta, I cut thin zucchini strips, sauteed them and used them as a base. The package contained 12 meat balls and six with half the sauce made a perfect meal. Again I prepared a similar salad and had the same wine.

The meat balls were tender, moist and delicious and the gravy was delicate and full of flavor. Three of the remaining meat balls I had a day later by themselves (quite delicious alone) and for the third three I used zucchini strips again and a tomato and avocado salad. I can’t remember ever having meat balls and a gravy or sauce that tasted that good.

The next day I heated the Ragu Bolognese and rather than divide it in two, figured I would just eat half and put the other half away for later. I dusted it with a bit of grated Parmesan, fixed a small romaine salad and a toasted and buttered ciabatta roll, and sat down with a those and a glass of wine. When I got up from the table, all that was left was a sip of wine.

What did they use to say on that commercial? “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”  It was that fantastic – not heavy or overpowering like some pasta dishes can be – just full of flavor and delicious, demanding you take another bite. Next time I will divide it first and put the other half in the refrigerator before I start, or invite a friend over.

All of the European specialties from Farmer’s Delicatessen can be purchased by calling 530-748-9165. Not all items may be available at all times.

The entrees come frozen in microwavable containers (although removing them and heating them in the oven is probably better). They are made so well that they can be refrigerated and reheated again with no loss of quality or flavor that I can find.

It is nice to have someone else who knows food take the time to make the dishes so you can enjoy them when you want them. And they are not that expensive.

Oh, ask to be put on her newsletter list since she is beginning to sell at some of the local farmer’s markets, including El Dorado Hills on Sundays.

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