Farm Dinner Updates. Gotta Be Here! #clericiranch #signorelloestate

We are very excited and proud to have Barbara and David Clerici host a fantastic farm dinner this summer.  They are opening up their ranch to all of us for an unforgettable evening of food, wine, and fun.  We will be featuring wines of the esteemed Signorello Estate paired with 5 courses of delicious Italian themed farmhouse cuisine which would not be complete without homemade Italian cream sodas.  Enjoy an exclusive tour of the ranch and watch your dinner being created right in front of your eyes in our open farm kitchen.

Dessert includes French pressed Napa Valley Coffee Roasters “Chinese Laundry” blend.  Feel great about participation in this event as proceeds go to help raise awareness about local food systems, help support lo cal family farmers and small local businesses, and Connolly Ranch, a local nonprofit organization that connects local area youth with nature through hands-on environmental education and nutrition programs.  Enjoy the slide show below which offers up views of Barbara and David’s ranch and photos of some past events.  Ciao and hope to see ya out on the farm!  Tickets available here.

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“The Cajun Microwave” (or… How to Cook a 100 Pound Pig in 4 Hours)

I met a gentleman by the name of Roberto Guerra today.  He stopped by campus to take a tour and was introduced to me.  If anyone knows anything about authentic Cuban food or cooking styles, you will know Roberto.  A very nice, unassuming man, you could tell he walked with a certain pride.  Rightfully so.  This man (or more specifically his father) created what we know today as “La Caja China”.  This is an above ground roaster capable of roasting a 100 pound pig (or something like 16 chickens, 6 turkeys, whole goats, whole lambs, bushels of vegetables, schools of fish, herds of elephants (well, maybe not…).  You get the idea.  

4 hours.  No wonder why it’s affectionately known as the “Cajun microwave”.  It’s fueled by whatever combustible you can think of, typically charcoal or wood.  The box is made from wood and lined with aluminum.  The food is placed between 2 grills and lowered into the box.  The lid is placed on top and the wood is laid on top of the lid.  It’s lit and allowed to cook, radiating heat from the top down.  What’s so cool about this?  You can then grill whatever on the top.  

Now, I am really into some of the more modern, progressive cooking techniques that are out there.  This, however falls into more of the primitive category of cooking methods.  In general, while modern cooking styles require a great understanding of food science, it really is simple in the actual execution.  Primitive cooking requires working with live, unpredictable heating sources, often times outside environments, and unpredictable weather.  You really have to be on top of your game to come out with great results and feel primitive cooking like this requires much respect.

What’s also cool about this cooking style is that it’s got history.  Taken directly from Roberto’s website:

“Legend has it that Chinese workers brought this method of cooking with them when they came to Cuba to work on the railroads in the 1850’s, thus the name ‘Caja China’ which means Chinese Box. Others claim that similar boxes are used throughout the Caribbean for roasting but no one knows for sure why they are called Chinese. The origin of the name may remain a mystery. But the facts are undeniably mouth-watering. The Guerra family brought the secret of making these extra-ordinary roasting boxes from Cuba to Miami.”

Nice.  And these boxes have been picking up in popularity.  What’s more, they are perfect for our farm dinners we will me starting later this year.  Roberto is working on a pro series roasting box for The Institute that we will be able to use.  On top of that, being that his largest current model only holds up to 100 pounds, he is going to be making a larger prototype box that should be able to fit a 200 pound pig in for us that we will be using at perhaps our premier farm dinner.  Double nice.  Although I don’t know Roberto THAT well yet, I’m quickly becoming a big fan.  Check him out here.

New Cooking Demo Video

Here’s the latest video from KTVL Channel 10 West Coast Flavors.  Grab some popcorn and enjoy!

Pros and Cons of Working with a Decades Old Menu.

It’s a respectful thing to work with such a time proven menu.  Very traditional.  I am very happy I also get to have a portion of the menu that is highly seasonal and modern.  Best of both worlds.  Drawback?  Well, 30 years ago, it was chic to use what were, back then, modern ingredients.  “Exotic” herbs were dried and used as we use fresh herbs just clipped from our garden.  Broth bases were used and considered a “gourmet” item.  Times have changed.  These recipes haven’t.  So, I continue to work on ways to improve the ingredients while staying true to tradition and the dish itself.  Point in case, I have started making my own chicken base.  There are a couple recipes we use that are over 50 years old and very popular that use it.  My version contains nothing more that organic chicken from Washington.  Nothing more.  And I use it exactly the same as the processed stuff that has an ingredient list longer than this blog post.  Come by and try the difference for yourself.  I reduced 5 gallons of chicken stock to 28 ounces of “base”.  It’s amazing…

This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Chicken…

We de-boned chickens, butterflied the breast, made a farce with the leg meat and filled the breast.  Then  we glued the filled breast back together.  It was sous vide at 140 deg for 2 hours.  It was then dry rubbed and crisped in a hot pan.  It’s served over a green peppercorn and goat cheese risotto, toasted almond butter, hibiscus demi glace and baby orange carrots.

Stuffed Chicken

This dish turned out real nice.  We take whole chickens and cut out the airline breast.  The thighs are boned out and the skin is reserved for the chicken skin wrapped pork.  The thigh meat is turned into a farce meat with linguisa sausage.  We butterfly the breast and pipe in the farce.  It’s then glued back together with Activa and sous vide at 140 deg for 2 hours.

Chicken Fried Pulled Pork.

Chicken Fried Steak?  Yeah.  How about Chicken Fried Pulled Pork?  We took our sous vide pork and pressed it into a terrine while it was hot and let it set over night.  Then it’s sliced and wrapped in chicken skin glued on with Activa.  After it sets, its coated in seasoned buttermilk and dredged in flour and fried.  Just like fried chicken, but it’s pulled pork.

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