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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Planting my #Garden for #Earthday Today

After WWII, America realized what we thought was the golden promise of an Industrialized Era.  We were (and are) an industrious bunch, working on efficiencies and trying to make EVERYTHING cheaper, better, faster…  at any cost, apparently.  We got good at it.  VERY good.  The problem is, in an era of excess, waste occurs.  We are content with car that get 20 MPG when gas is under $2 a

gallon.  Now it’s over $4 a gallon and we’re worried.  We, as consumers don’t see why it’s so expensive.  We don’t often realize that it takes MILLIONS of years to create the oil we use in practically EVERYTHING we produce from gas, to industrial fertilizers to plastic goods.  It’s taken us under a hundred years to notice that oil is not unlimited and that we maybe running to the end of our supply.  Millions of years to make, a century to use.  Hmmm…  Time to move on to something different.

What does this have to do with my garden?  Nothing really, except that by planting a garden, you too can help save the Earth, just like supporting endeavors to utilize renewable energy sources.  I guess they are linked.  And, it is Earth day after all.  And there’s only one Earth.

So, let’s ALL plan ahead.  Invest in renewable energy now AND start finding ways to conserve water.  Because, the next wars will be fought over H2O.  Trust me.  And it worries me.  Plan now.  Happy Earth Day, Earth.

New Farm Added to the Lineup! #fulltablefarm

We are pleased to announce a new farm will be joining us for a fantastic farm dinner!  Mindy and Juston over at Full Table Farm in Yountville will be providing an array of farm goodies for one of our dinners.  We are very excited because of the quality products and the naturally grown, organic manner in which they produce it.

I first met Mindy briefly at the farmer’s market at the Oxbow last season.  Summer was winding down and I was looking for some veggies to sample.  I was drawn to Mindy’s booth because of the cool sign she had…  I just dig it for some reason.  What a bonus to find how wonderful the vegetables were!  They sell to several fine restaurants in the Valley and I can’t wait to have you try the goods.  Check them out on Facebook, www.fulltablefarm.com or, better yet, come meet and dine with them at their featured dinner this summer.  Full schedule to be released May 1st.

 

 

 

 

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.

Beyond the Kitchen Farm Dinner Announcement

We have been working hard hammering out the details for our premier farm dinner series.  Well, we are now one step closer!  We have decided to use Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company coffee for our events.  I met Charlie today at the Saint Helena roasting house and sampled many selections.  He seemed pretty excited when I mentioned that it was all going to be French pressed.  I can’t blame him.  So, look for Charlie’s roasted coffee at our events as we celebrate all the greatness Napa Valley has to offer! 

Homemade Farm Fresh Soda

Yep, a lot of us are addicted to soda.  4 out of 5 of us in this household are junkies.  And last I heard, soda doesn’t do a lot of good for our health.  With that being said, I want to serve soda at our farm dinners.  I am not one of the four addicted in our house, however I think a well crafted, Italian style soda, made right on the farm would be a welcome addition in the hot afternoons.  So, I’ve got this cool mid-century 10 gallon soda keg from Niagara Falls Pepsi-Co that I have thought about using for about 5 years now.  I bought it when I lived in Hawaii and It’s been collecting dust.  Well, today I disassembled it, changed all the crumbling o-rings, scrubbed it, sanitized it, and ran scalding hot water through it.  I wasn’t even sure if it would work, so I charged it with CO2 and looked for any leaks.  Stayed sealed tight and this is what I ended up with:

So, this is what I am going to do.  I am going to fill the tank with farm spring water and carbonate it.  We will have fresh fruit and berries (whatever’s in season) that we will turn into syrups.  As our guests are arriving, we will pour the syrups into glasses and top them off with freshly carbonated spring water.  Voila!  A round of homemade farm fresh sodas for everyone.  Or how about a peach and amaretto flavored soda?  A light blast of farm fresh cream?  This is gonna be awesome!

Straw Bale Garden In the Works

I first heard about this technique a couple of months ago.  The idea is that you can start the composting process in the bales by letting nitrogen (in my case, organic chicken manure) soak into them and allow them to “cook” over the space of a week.  (See previous post for details).  

Now that we have started our rainy season, I have purchased 4 bales of straw and have set them out into our mini farm.  My “farm hands” spread the manure over the tops and soaked them in real good.  We’ll continue the soaking process a couple of times a day unless it’s raining.  Hopefully these guys will start heating up real well and maybe we’ll see some mushrooms poking out.

After the bales cool down when the reaction subsides, the natural nitrogen in the straw will be available for whatever we want to plant.  We will be using them mostly for micro kale, micro cucumbers, pea tendrils, red vein sorrel, and nasturtiums for our Beyond the Kitchen farm dinners.  It’s gonna be great!

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.

THE Way to Grow Vegetables for Your Restaurant or Home

I recently stumbled across an idea that many people have been exploring for a long time.  It’s called Straw Bale Gardening.  It’s got a huge advantage to conventional gardening.  It’s essentially a form of container gardening, but it’s very low cost and extremely  flexible in it’s set-up.  The bales sit up high on top of the ground and you don’t have to deal with turning soil, bending so far over, rocks, poor soil, or getting as dirty.  The only disadvantage that I can see so far is they initially take a lot of water to get them cooking.  After that, an easy drip system will minimize water loss.  Perfect for urban farming, even directly on concrete.  Make sure you don’t mind a little discoloration on the concrete if you do.

What’s happening is that the bales of straw (not hay), after conditioning, start to slowly decompose releasing nitrogen into your plants. Conditioning is easy.  Simply soak the bales in water twice a day for about 10 days.  Add about 3 cups of organic, nitrogen rich fertilizer to the tops of the bales at the beginning of this process so the nutrients can soak down into the bales.  Be sure the ties that are keeping the bales together are running horizontally so that no part touches the ground otherwise they could rot and your bales would fall apart. 

Sometime during this 10 days, the bale will start to get very warm in the middle.  This is the start of the chemical break down otherwise known as the conditioning.  If it does not heat up, it won’t grow your garden.  The heating up will subside after about a week.  After that, you simply lay out some compost on top of your bales and plant your seeds or transplant your starts.  Just water and fertilize as normal and get ready to enjoy some great produce.  The details can be found here.

This is am extremely simplified version of the conditioning phase.  There are many examples out there of watering/feeding schedules to follow and how to achieve the “best” results.   Check them out.   A vast majority of people using this method report much fewer weeds, pests, diseases, and fewer general problems than planting directly in the ground.  Bales will last 2 seasons.  After that, spread them out over the ground to have some great compost to start some new bales.   I will be planting potatoes, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets, broccoli, and a few herbs.  I can’t wait to give it a try.  Why not you?

The Slaughtering of Animals

I had the opportunity to join a small farm as the called in a small, mobile slaughter truck that came in and slaughtered a cow and a Mulefoot hog.  It was a calm and quick .22 shot to the head.  The use of a mobile unit coming to the farm is preferred because the pigs live a happy, healthy life on the farm and to truck them away would add undue stress.  They were then processed in the space of about 30-40 minutes a piece.  It was amazing to watch, but unnerving at the same time.  I appreciate animals for food so much more now.  What was even more amazing was listening to the slaughterer and the farmer discuss the current affairs of big agribusiness and factory farms and how sad the condition of our food supply system is in.  My new favorite quote is the farmer saying “Pigs in factory farms are merely holograms of the real thing.”   The following pictures are a bit graphic.

 

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Foraging in Northern California

Sous Vide Eggs

Here are some eggs we sous vide at 63 degrees for 2o minutes.  My banquet cook Andrew at the Jacksonville Inn experimented with just the right time and temperature for these great results.  They went great on our House smoked wild Columbia River Sturgeon we did for a party of 300 for my last big party off site.  Worked great!  We were cracking them on site.  Beautiful… 

Local Wheat

Here is a pic of the wheat we grew here at the Inn from some local seed stock…  I have never actually seen wheat growing.  It’s a blast teaching the kids about wheat and how you make bread and cereal and all the wonderful other things that are associated with it.  True food, not processed.

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…

Wheat from Dunbar Farms, Southern Oregon

We have spread some wheat berries from Dunbar Farm around our garden a few months ago when it was really cold out.  Actually, it was our chief maintenance man, Trapper who grabbed a handful back in February when I was toiling with what to do with them.  Well, now that it’s warm, and the sun is shining, this is what we have…

 This is a great example of natural selection.  This wheat is grown in this area and selected for these growing condition.  I’m not sure of the lineage of this red wheat before I got it, only that it is an heirloom variety…  But we have kept it going for another season.  Perhaps we will continue to replant it season after season and show how this wheat is much better than GM seeds that have no value after it’s planted.  My seeds have history and can be replanted year after year, adapted to this region, unlike the genetically modified wheat that can only be planted for one season, then it’s lost.  Only time and people can decide what’s better.

Wild Ramp Butter

I made a lot of ramp butter with some more ramps I got.  Thinking something with oven braised rainbow trout….

Sous Vide Chicken with Oregon White Truffles

Here is the first dish I made today using my truffles for Sunday Brunch.

          

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