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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A Portion of Our Proceeds… #connollyranch #dirttodine

It has long been my goal to provide a portion of our proceeds from our farm dinners to a local nonprofit organization.  I feel it’s simply not enough to be utilizing local food producers to purchase food from.  There is so much more that can be done.  Nonprofit organizations are the unsung heros that work in the silent background to help change antiquated laws or provide valuable community services.  There are many out there.  My challenge was finding one that was inline with my goals and philosophies of helping support local agriculture and raise awareness about the importance of local food systems.  While there are many out there, I have found one that is able to be involved with the dinners and actively participate in promoting the cause.

Our initial goal was to donate $500 per sold out event.  Well, now we feel that it can be much more.  While keeping our farm dinner prices the same as our initial budget, I think that we will be able to put over 10 times more money into the hands of nonprofits.  Funds that will go towards on-the-farm programs geared towards school aged children.  Programs that teach children hands on about how a farm operates including everything from animal raising to composting to cooking and eating.  I was very impressed.  You can check out a bit about what they do in the video below.  And follow this link to their website to learn more and become a friend.  Better still, come out to one of our farm dinners (scheduled to be released May 1st) to learn more about what they do first hand.

A Hill of Beans

Beans.  What’s there to say?  The magical fruit.  Boiled beans can have a bad wrap for being boring.  Being a culinarian, I have a deep appreciation for beans because they are very versatile and carry flavors very well.  They have a great, satisfying texture and are very nutritious.  Problem is, It’s not easy to find good beans.  Commodity beans on the market today are mere holograms of the original, rich tasting heirloom varieties.  Supermarket beans can be many years old and beans do not age very well.  

With that being said, I have found a producer of these rich, heirloom variety beans and, what’s more, they are local to Northern California.  Enter in Rancho Gordo.  Steve started his bean company because he found supermarket produce lacked flavor and quality.  Lucky for us.  He also sells dried corn, chili, some grains and a few other goodies.  Check him out here;  http://www.ranchogordo.com/html/rg_story.htm

We are proud to announce that we will be using Rancho Gordo for all our bean and dried corn needs for every Farm Dinner Event.  Stop by the Rancho Gordo store in Napa or come to one of our farm dinners this Summer.  Our Farm Dinner schedule will be posted in the following weeks.

Artisanal Baker Chosen for Beyond The Kitchen Farm Dinners

After spending a little bit of time and “research” (read – eating), we have decided on a local baker to use for Beyond the Kitchen farm dinners.  The choice was made for several reasons.  Not only is the quality some of the best, but the story of this bakery and the history involved are a perfect fit for what we are all about.

1908 this place opened as a bakery in St. Helena and is continuing the tradition to this day.  Rechristened as the Model Bakery over 25 years ago, they still bake out of the same brick ovens that were originally installed in the 1920’s.  While I have yet to try them, I hear the english muffins are killer.

Farmers and Their Chickens

I have had the fortune of connecting with a man by the name of Douglas Hayes.  He is the one behind the Napa Valley Buckeye Chickens.  I was invited by his farm (or “Preservation Sanctuary Learning Center” as he has coined it) to see his operation and try to convince him to be a featured farmer for one of our Beyond The Kitchen farm dinners.  While he has a lot of space (over 30 acres) he has a very small area devoted to the raising and perfecting of the Buckeye chicken breed.  Image

Douglas is committed to preservation and sustainable agriculture.  Through the many hours speaking with him, I feel that he has always been this way.  This is not a trendy thing for him to be doing, rather a way of life he has always embraced.

Taken from his write up:

“The Buckeye Chicken:

The Buckeye chicken was created in Ohio by Nettie Metcalf before 1896.  Four Standard Bred chickens were used to establish the breed.  Buff Cochin, Barred Rock, Black Breasted Red Game, and Dark Cornish were crossed over a period of six years… the result of this selection is the Buckeye. The Buckeye is a Multipurpose breed with good meat and egg qualities.  At the height of popularity there may have been 2-3 million Buckeyes, by 1960 there were about 10,000 of these chickens; now, there are only 2188 Buckeye breeders remaining, of which there maybe only 500 with really good genetics.  The breeding Buckeye flock at this Preservation Sanctuary Learning Center is 125 chickens with good genetics, and is pasture raised.  The chickens are processed at 16-18 weeks the old fashioned way in a completely humane way.  These chicken know NO violence, only love.  No antibiotics, no preservatives, no hormones, no GMO Grain, and no additives are fed to the chickens.”
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I had the opportunity to cook one of his chickens recently.  I brined it overnight in a 6% salt water solution and roasted it whole, stuffed with onions, apples and sage.  Served it with roasted baby marble potatoes, green beans and linguica sausage.  I have to say, this was seriously the best chicken I have ever had that was super moist, crispy skin and dark meat that was so dark, flavorful and steak-like.  Wow.
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I can tell Douglas has a deep philosophy about food, life and living.  After knowing him, it’s easy to understand the words he chooses to finish his write-up:
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“If animals are raised with love and respect, processed with love and respect, cooked with love and respect, and served with love and respect, then we eat love and respect, and we are healed.”
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Look forward to meeting Douglas and having some amazing chicken with us on his sanctuary in mid August.  Details forthcoming.

“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 Local Tuna Special

I have finally (FINALLY!) hooked up with the Port Orford gang and they are now sending me fresh albacore tuna straight from the Oregon coast.  Here’s a special we’re running with it right now…  Sesame seared with a nice Asian slaw, tomato puree and avocado.  Turned out really delicious…

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