Saturday, March 28, 2009

Local artisan coffee roaster company...

As many of you may already know, I am a home coffee roaster. I started this hobby a few months ago and haven't looked back since.

I was able to get a tour of a local artisan coffee roaster in my area. It was quite a treat. Saw a couple really old machines and saw how small batch coffee is made. Was really cool.

Check these pics out:

Monday, March 16, 2009

My pork belly, the "cure" for my cravings/ Part 3, the Finale!

So, if you're following along at home, you may have noticed the wonderful rewards I've earned from giving my 11+ pound fresh pork belly a good home. We made three kinds of cured American style bacon and a flat pancetta called a "stresa". Well, my patience has been rewarded. The pancetta FINALLY had been drying long enough to use.

I decided, since it was breakfast time, to make a hash using my new porky snack with a few other yum-yums I scored from our local producers.

First, I diced up a little bit of this stresa. When I cut into it, I noticed the shear beauty of dry-cured meat and fat staring at me, taunting me, wow. Picture perfect!

I rendered it off until slightly crisp in a saute pan, threw in some half-cooked pan fried potatoes, a dollop of local home-made sweet cream butter (pork fat AND butter? you bad boy!). I let that melt and then added some local organic eggs that had the most orangey yolks I've ever seen! They were glowing like the sun! T'was quite a site.

Lastly, after the eggs were almost done, I threw in a handful of cows milk feta cheese and melted that all together. Few splashes of Chalula Hot Sauce (not local, but hell, it's the best!) and off I went to the big nosh. Washed it down with a few cups of my latest batch of Colombian beans and I was set up for some great things to come (including some flatulence that would indeed haunt me later, but I digress).

I'm trying not to use cuss words in my blog as much as I've been known to, so I can't tell you how holy-shit amazing this was to eat (oops, one slipped out ;) ) . Check out the pictures for yourself.

The finished stresa, what a site to see!

Crispy home-fries like mom used to make :)

"stresa and potatoes sittin' in a tree, K.I.S.S.I.N.G."

Followed up by the whore herself, the adulteress, sweet cream local butter. WHO'S YER DADDY!?

IT'S A BOY? (NO, it's a cholester-f**k :) )

Friday, March 13, 2009

Slow Food Charlotte Potluck Dinner

Back on March 5th, I was invited to attend the local Slow Food Charlotte Monthly Pot Luck Dinner. There were about 20 of us and we were to each bring a dish that was either our specialty or a dish that reflected our heritage. For instance, if you're from New England, you might bring a dish called "Gorton", which is a pork spread made with ground pork and spices (you might remember a past blog of mine that mentioned my childhood love of pies filled with the stuff!, yum!).

Anyway, there were all sorts of great dishes. From spinach soup made with organic spinach and potatoes, to manicotti filled with cheese to some of the best breads I've ever had! The hostess made this Lamb Shank dish that blew me out of the water. It's really great when someone cooks a lamb shank so perfectly. It's a treat, for sure.

I met some great people who share my love for all things food. It's such a relief to know that we are out there, the food lovers, and that people actually do appreciate good food as a passion and not just filling a hole.

In case you're wondering, I brought a huge 9x12x4 beef and cheese lasagna made with home-made pasta that I infused with thyme and cracked black pepper. It was layered with a goat cheese and cream cheese filling with lemon zest, garlic and Parmesan as well as a house-made marinara sauce. It was topped with gobs of mozzarella.

Unfortunately, the pasta was a little thirstier than I had expected and it sucked up most of the sauce, thus resulting in a slightly dried out version of something that could have been mind-blowing. Everyone said they loved it but, they were being overly nice. I blame all the wine they were drinking, lol. Ah, chef's are their own worse critics, right!?

Check out these pictures:

Monday, March 09, 2009

Party at Chef Charles Catering!!

Recently, I had the honor and the pleasure to work for Chef Charles Semail at Chef Charles Catering in Charlotte, NC. We was doing a private event for a few of the cities most influential people in the food service world. We did a multi-course dinner for about 16 people. Food was awesome and I was very proud to be a part of it!

As people were trickling in, they were met by a couple appetizers. Chef Charles Catering has this huge smoker in the back and smoked some chicken wings. They were rubbed in a special blend of spices then smoked in hickory. We tossed them in two types of house-made barbecue sauce (mild and hot) and served them with celery sticks, blue cheese dressing and chipotle ranch. Simple setup but those wings were, and I'm not exaggerating, the BEST I've ever eaten. I mean, I've been on this planet for over 37 years and been to every state on the east coast and I've NEVER had wings like these. Perfectly cooked with the right amount of hickory smoke and spice. Jeesh.

The menu was pheasant-themed to commemorate a hunting trip they all went on in South Dakota last year. So, as one would expect from the chef, he created a pheasant pate platter. The center piece was the body of a gorgeous pheasant with all the pate sliced perfectly and layed around with assorted accompaniments. Check out the picture:

Was just awesome. The flesh of the bird was taken out properly and used in the pate. The body was then stuffed with a cabbage head and set in a natural pose. Sweet.

There were tons of expensive wines to chose from as well. All layed out by Sylvain. Prices ranging from 20 dollar bottles to bottles costing over 150 bucks! Everyone was really impressed so far and they hadn't even started dinner yet!

After everyone sat down, we served them the first of 4 courses.

Course number one was an egg roll filled with pheasant confit, dried cherry's, brandy and some spices. It was then fried, cut on a bias and placed with a baby arugula salad, finely julienned multi-colored radishes and a baby heirloom tomato salad tossed in a shallot and herb vinaigrette. Wow, was it great! Perfect flavors and uses of textures.

Course number two was a pheasant pot pie. I made this basic flavorful pot pie filling using pheasant stock (roasted bones, mire poix, red wine, tomato paste, herbs and water), vegetables and the breast and thighs of the pheasant. I placed it in a ramekin and sealed the top with puff pastry, brushed it with egg wash and baked it until golden brown and delicious. The result was this puffed dome of buttery goodness that you had to break through with your spoon. Beneath this layer of goodness was the bubbly stew of veloute, vegetables, potatoes and chunks of pheasant. Outstanding!

Course number three was the main course. It consisted of a red-wine marinated breast of pheasant, roasted baby root vegetables (turnips, carrots, red onion and leeks), and truffle mashed potatoes in a puff pastry ring. All was served with an awesome red wine sauce.

The last course was dessert. We made a bread pudding with rum-soaked raisins, chocolate chips and sweet spices. Poured a killer custard over the top and baked until just done. We then topped it with a lemon ice cream made with creme anglaise and garnished with assorted chocolate candies that the chef made in-house.

To make the night even MORE enjoyable, the chef invited me to join them for dinner. I've never worked for anyone like that before. I've always been the guy or the guy managing the people cleaning up and eating the left overs!

It was a great event and everyone (including the Chef and I) were very pleased with the food.

At the end of the night, belly's full and buzzed with a lot of great wine, the guests departed with a thank you gift of country pate in a canning jar that was decorated by the vivacious Emily.

Just awesome and, like his mantra states, they have a "Passion for Food and an Obsession for Detail". I look forward to working with them again soon.

Tarheel Catering; Smoke, Beef and Rain on a Saturday Night.

So, a couple Saturday nights ago, Kevin from Tarheel Catering and a few of us got together up in Albemarle at Uwharrie Vineyards. Tarheel Catering is a catering company based in Statesville, NC and his company's specialty it charcoal cooking done right. No propane, no briquettes, just real hard wood coals on a HUGE custom-made drum-style grill. Pretty impressive set-up.

I'd answered an ad I saw on Craigslist to pick up a few extra bucks. As with most of the people in the cheffing biz, we're struggling to make ends meet and need a little more money these days. Kevin and I talked over the phone a few times and hit it off right away. Great guy and I appreciated the chance to help out!

But, we earned our money that night, for sure. Check out what happened:

The event was a wine club dinner for over 180 people. We had a little "weather" to say the least. It was day two of a four day rain storm that just wouldn't let up. And, to make matters worse, it was WINDY as SHIT! Before I was to assume the grilling position, I helped make the salads. Simple spring mix salad with the usual fixin's of grape tomatoes, onion, cucumbers and a hoola-hoop sized ring of green bell pepper to tie it all together.

Then, after a quick chop of some red potatoes, Kevin's wife put them in the oven (she's not pictured) with a little chopped red onion, garlic and some spices.

He had put up a huge tent over the grilling area to keep us dry and keep the wind off of us. The wind was whipping bad. We both thought that the tent was going to blow away like Dorothy's house! But, small problem with that setup is that, although we were dry and semi-wind-free, we were becoming a couple of smoked sausages, lol! My hat and sweatshirt STILL smell like a camp fire. I finally had to open up a wall to let in some air.

Kevin had a great idea to knock these 180 steaks out fast. He covered 2 8-foot prep tables in plastic sheeting and layed the steaks out, oiled them, seasoned them, and we then threw them on the grill. We fit about 60 steaks on at a time. After they were done to Kevin's liking, we placed them in a Cambro hot box to keep them warm for service.

We had a great time, people were pleased and I met another colleague to write in my blog about.

Thanks Kevin!