Monday, January 31, 2011

Garden planning at Davidson...

Moving right along with the "Chefs Move to School" program with an area school in Davidson, NC.

We are in the beginning stages of the garden planning for this Spring. We will be planting a small garden in front of the school for the next semester and today we pulled weeds, marked off the garden plot with stakes and twine, discussed what we will be planting and so on.

The students decided to grow snap peas, carrots, radishes and more. I will be showing them how to create healthy meals and snacks using these ingredients and to help them make smart choices when eating.

It was great to see everyone get excited about the garden. I think I'm more excited to show students how to make the food than they are of planting it, lol.

Stay tuned for more fun!

My "nose-to-tail" pig project...

I've always been in to pushing the boundaries of the day-to-day. I think this is why I am so attracted to the restaurant business. Never a dull moment and you never know what each day will bring.

A fellow chef and good friend texted me asking me for ideas on what to do with a whole pig he recently purchased. My mind was racing with great things one could do with such a divine creature; guanciale, bacon, smoked trotters and hocks, head cheese, chicharrón, the sky's the limit! I was inspired by my friends quest and so I did something about it. (Thanks Bryan!)

Someone showed me this pic and asked me if I could really eat such a cute creature? (Umm...YES!)

So, I've decided that, since I've never broken down an entire animal before, I'd do just that. I bought a whole 60 pound suckling pig decided to create as many items as I could with that beast. Kind of like showing respect to the animal. Besides, will be great practice for my butchery and charcuterie skills. :)

Cut in thirds...

My piggy came in frozen solid and needed a few days to thaw. After a good "chill" in the cooler, I plopped her out onto the prep table and began. Armed with a hack saw and a couple sharp knives, I began my duties.


Even though this was a small pig, I still had to put two cutting boards together to have enough work space to butcher this bad boy. After a good rinse, I began by removing the head. I put this aside for head cheese I plan to put on our charcuterie plate at a later time. Besides, I've always wanted to taste head cheese over a nice local salad.

Burning off the hair for the head cheese.

Simmering away in wine, garlic and herbs for about 5 hours.

The finished product, pretty yummy!

Next, I removed the hams and then the buts with my boning knife and under sized hack saw (next time I do this, I will be sure to buy a real butcher-style hack saw and not a small house-hold one from my neighborhood hardware store, lol). It took some doing, but worked out perfectly.

I removed the skin for pork rinds, the trotters to add to the head cheese and the hocks for smoking (think I'll put those in some local collard greens, yum), then saved the butts to make American style hams. The hams came out amazing, but, sadly, I didn't get a picture of the pork rinds before we ate them all! Yes, they were insanely good.

Perfect ham with Dijon brown sugar glaze.

Smoked ham hocks for collard greens? Maybe soup?

Now, I split the saddle down the middle. I removed the bellies of both sides. One of them will be stresa (a flat pancetta) and the other half will be traditional belly bacon (or streaky bacon).

Hack saw. Splitting the saddle in half.

Future bacon.

With the loins, I sawed one into chops (I marinated those with jerk seasoning and grilled them!) and the other, I broke down into loin/ tender loin feeding the ribs to my cooks for our dinner. (they simmered them in a spicy jalapeno salsa and we ate them over rice with tortillas, yes, it was good.) The other loin, I made into Canadian bacon for eggs Benedict ;) .

My finished Canadian bacon came out perfect!

Tiny loin chops!

I love tasso ham, so I de-boned the shoulders, cured them, packed them with spices and smoked them over hickory. Salty, hammy goodness :)

Any scraps left over were set aside for meatballs. I will sear them and serve them Swedish style over home-made egg noodles.

So, head cheese, tasso ham, American style ham, pork rinds/ chicharrón, bacon, stresa, Canadian bacon, smoked hocks and meatballs. This little piggy definitely went to market and a tasty market at that! Next time, I will source a larger animal and get some better tools. But, this was a great experience for sure and I really learned a lot!

(more pics to follow!)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chefs Move to School, continued...

This week at Davidson Middle School, another day with the Chefs Move to School Program, we discussed how to make salad dressing and dipping sauces using the emulsion technique. I brought along my handy stick blender and a container with a screw-on-lid discussing that you don't need a fancy gadget to make an emulsion. The students chopped garlic and grated ginger while I discussed different oils and vinegars that one could make a dressing with. A couple students cleaned sugar snap peas for later.

Afterwords, the students went to visit a local farm in Concord, NC to discuss eating local and to see where there food comes from. They toured the farm, picked lettuces and discussed the importance of local farms in the area.

They then came back and ate what they bought from the farm using our emulsions and their dipping sauces. A fun time was had by all! If you hadn't had a chance to work with kids about the importance of good food choices, eating healthy and using seasonal ingredients, you should try it, its great!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Deep Plate Challenge...planning, plating and eating!

Wow, this is gonna be great! I'm doing this sweet challenge with another chef for the upcoming Deep Plate Exercise. In case you hadn't been following along, this plate company sends out a plate to you (if you are a professional chef or culinary student) each month, you plate up your food on it and send them pictures. They then post the pics with descriptions on their web site and facebook page.

Since I really shouldn't post this blog until the contest officially starts, you'll be reading this after that day. Makes things a little more fair, eh?

The chefs name that I will be challenging is Richard Taitt. I don't know this person, but I'm looking forward to doing this with him. Should be a blast.

After a little planning and scheming, we have to do 5 courses to consist of an amuse, an appetizer, a salad, a main and a dessert.

For my amuse, I've come up with something small, two bites, that reflects the season:

Butternut squash and wild mushroom filled ravioli with fried shallots, chili oil and micro basil and radish. Soft fresh pasta filled with local butternut squash, some wild mushrooms and a little ricotta. Combine that with the crisp fresh micro greens and fried shallot, a perfect bite.

For the appetizer, something a little more substantial but light:

Pan-seared scallops over pesto with micro radish salad and extra virgin olive oil. Seared on a hot pan and placed on a fresh pesto sauce, great combo. Of course, we need a little crunch, so its topped with strips of radish and local micro radish greens. And, for some color and nuttiness, topped with some amazing Greek olive oil. A nice app to set you up for the next course.

Salad, fennel, frisee and radicchio salad with toasted hazelnut vinaigrette. Crisp and delicious. The bitterness of the radicchio and frisee together with the sweetness of the fennel and leaf lettuces go great with the nuttiness of the toasted hazelnuts. Perfect combo.

Main, pan seared loin of beef over creamy polenta and topped with roasted mushrooms and pearl onions topped with local micro greens. A heartier course but not too heavy. Even though it is beef, the portion size is perfect. Soft polenta goes great with the roasted mushrooms and onions. The mushrooms have a unique crispness that just blow your mind!

And, finally for dessert, double chocolate cherry cheese cake topped with bourbon cherries and micro mint. A chocolate blast! Dark, semi sweet chocolate, bitter sweet cocoa and bourbon soaked cherries go great with that punch of micro mint and crunch from the Oreo crust. You may have to keep yourself from licking the plate!

I got the hook up on the micro greens from Lucky Leaf Gardens, thanks Kate!

Each of the above pictures, along with the other chefs pics, are judged by our peers on Deep Plate's blog. Not sure if there is a prize, but bragging rights to the winner is good enough for me!

Check out the link and cast your votes! :)

[edit] Thank you to all who voted, I won by over 50% of the votes! Cool stuff :)