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.

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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!

“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…

Wild Ramp Butter

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

Join Me In July As I Cook For a Fantastic Farm to Fork Event July 23rd

I will be excitedly joining Matthew Domingo, Director of Farm to fork Events to be a guest Chef for his July 23rd event at Willow-Witt Ranch in Ashland featuring their wonderful pastured pork and goat.  Enjoy wines by Weisinger’s Winery as we celebrate local farmers and wineries and enjoy food right at the source.  It will be a fantastic opportunity to meet the ranchers and learn about what goes into a fun and fabulously prepared dinner.   Farm to Fork events have become known for their interactive dining formats and this evening will prove to be no different.  Come join us and see what’s new from The Jacksonville Inn.

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