Farm Burger Supper Series–I’ll be back (if I can get to the phone fast enough)!

Hungry diners await the chefs' offerings at Farm Burger's Summer Farm Supper No. 4.

Let me just tell you upfront: the life of a food blogger does not suck. Which is a good thing because the pay really does. But every once in a while, gustatory curiosity (and my continuing need for high-quality content) leads me to an event I might otherwise never have noticed. And every once in a while, I have an experience that ends up being pay enough. (Well, almost.)

The Summer Farm Supper No. 4 on Thursday, August 11, 2011, at Farm Burger in Decatur, Georgia, was such an event. And luckily for all involved, it is part of an ongoing a series!

At the helm this evening were two chefs, Ryan Smith of Empire State South and Zeb Stevenson of Livingston Restaurant + Bar, ready to show what they could do with ingredients provided by Farm Burger affiliates Moonshine Meats and Full Moon Farms in Athens, Georgia.

Chefs Zeb and Ryan take a well-deserved bow.

The rest of us were just along for the exquisite ride knowing only that for about $36 we would get something like four courses. Nonetheless, the event sold out completely leaving a decent-sized waiting list of the tardy but hungry.

The menu was posted on the Farm Burger blog two days ahead of time, and I was intrigued. The line-up included parts of the cow and pig I’d never experienced before along with some unusual parts of other animals, too.

Dinner was served at several communal tables set throughout the restaurant and at the bar. I was seated with a group of three and another pair to round out our table of six with a great view of the kitchen.

Patient patrons at the bar.

As my fellow diners arrived, we were provisioned with a pre-appetizer snack of puffed beef tendon dusted with a finely grated, hard, white mystery cheese.

Puffed beef tendon by candlelight.
 

It was paired with a refreshing and delicately sweet fig-rosé spritzer concoction.

Summertime Sipper--a kind of fig-rosé spritzer

 

 

 

 

Now just where on the animal this tendon was originally located was never revealed but the secret in no way diminished my enjoyment of this oddly alluring treat. (You will note I followed a strict “don’t ask; don’t tell ” policy through most of this meal. It was probably for the best.)

Check out the size of that beef tendon.

My closest analog with the texture was pork rinds but with a slightly sticky finish you would expect from an ingredient containing so much collagen. There was obviously some delicious fat involved, perhaps tallow, the buttery flavor of which only intensified its beefy goodness. And even though each tendon was about the size of a dinner plate and I was putting them away like I had just returned from a two week stroll across the Gobe desert, I still had plenty of room for the remaining courses—six remaining courses to be exact.

Next on deck was a sampler basket featuring three items, potted chicken liver with a rhubarb mustard, something called “scrapple,” which appeared to be something formed into a cube, enrobed in an herbed crust, and fried then topped with cured egg yolk, and something else called a beef heart “kifto” topped with a bit of crispy beef belly. (You will note, the chefs served not only inspiring food but also gave me an edumacation.)

Red basket sampler. (Potted chicken liver on the right; Scrapple topped with cured egg yolk in the center; Beef heart kifto on the left.)

The potted chicken liver was as you would expect—smoothly pate-like—and the rhubarb mustard was a served atop a subtly-sweet jelly (or maybe it was the jelly. No one at my table seemed able to tell). The scrapple simply reminded me of a really moist baked kibbe—only fried. And the shredded beef heart was an interesting deep red color and velvety texture with an unexpectedly delicate flavor. So far, so good.

Course One.

But the meal was only just beginning as course one was finally served. This course was to be a cold melon soup redolent of watermelon juice and containing a large, succulent shrimp, a sliver of “lardo,” and sweet, raw onion slivers, served as a “shooter.” (I refused to shoot, preferring a more lady-like sip that allowed me to actually taste this excellent dish.)

Those who did try to shoot it failed miserably, however, as it was a bit too much volume and the shrimp was really too large to allow much success. So, effectively, this was soup was served sans spoon. Alright then.

Along with the soup was a trout “rillette” spread upon on a whole wheat crostini. The rillette reminded me of a really awesome fish mousse—and that is good—because apparently it is prepared something like a pate. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 3 for the chefs to 1 for the foodie. But, hey, I’m on the board.

What remained of Course Two by the time I took the snap. Yu-um. (BTW, the long brown things are fried pigs ears. I know, right?!)

Next up was a quartered and cherry heirloom tomato salad with slivered and fried pigs ears, basil, and goat cheese in a lovely vinaigrette. Yum. As in each course so far, there was a hint of sweetness about this dish, but as in each prior course, only as a delicate note far in the background. In this case, that note was provided by the perfectly garden-ripe tomatoes and the vinegar.

Course Three.

Course three was thinly-sliced pickled beef tongue, shaved fennel, summer veggies (in this case diced tomatoes, thin slices of raw okra cut on the diagonal, red and yellow bell peppers, and slivered sweet onions), and chili vinegar served family-style on a wooden plank. Once again, the chefs transmuted random organ meat into an unexpected delight.

Only a few of my fellow diners had ever eaten tongue, but we all agreed this must be a great example of it. The tongue had been sliced across the grain and was so thin as to eradicate any hint of toughness and leave only clean meat with a texture that nearly melted in your mouth.

Course Three upclose.

Even more surprising to everyone than how much we all enjoyed tongue, however, was how much we enjoyed raw okra. The diagonal slicing and other mystery preparation resulted in a crispy and totally un-gooey freshness none of us okra-eaters expected.

And then suddenly, it was time for course four. The craziest part of this, the final savory course, was its incredibly underwhelming description and family-style iron skillet presentation. I mean what was so hot about sausage, ribs, and warm barley salad? Well, as it turns out: a lot.

The magical Course Four. (Warning: Objects appear less impressive than they actually taste.)

Like the huge burst of incredible fireworks that immediately precede the end of a Fourth of July display, course number four simply blew me away. Without hesitation and unblushingly, notwithstanding all prior praise for pork and pork products previously reviewed in this blog, I can truly say these were the best, ever, to-end-all, to-die-for ribs and kielbasa that shall forever haunt my dreams.

The only consolation is that these unassumingly titled components were so far in a class by themselves that they almost defied the categories from which they sprang, and so, in my mind are set aside—incomparable with any other food sharing those respective names. Hey, if they weren’t, I could never eat pork again. (Yes. They were that good.)

Course Four.

And the barley salad was pretty good too. In fact, in the presence of any other meat, the salad likely would have been star of this particular show. Here, however, it was merely something to pass the time between brief sojourns through the outskirts of pork heaven.

“What was so awesome, then?” you may ask. Well, for starters, the fat of the sausage was practically drinkable. And the meat was sensuously textured, amazingly well-seasoned, and absolutely perfectly prepared. So perfectly, I wondered whether one nanosecond of cooking time in either direction would have ruined its delicately balanced flawlessness. My God! I can hardly believe I’m talking about sausage here.

Strangely, the rib came in second to the sausage in a photo finish. That’s weird to me because I have never before in my life preferred anything to a spare rib. Not that there was anything wrong with this one.

The Chefs bask in the afterglow of their triumph in Decatur.

In fact, there was everything right about it. The exterior was almost imperceptibly crispy with a delicate crust of lightly distributed and (once again) subtly sweet sauce. Until now, it had been my experience that most ribs are defined by the sauce and the meat is either good or not good.

In this instance, however, Chef Terry’s restraint allowed the magnificence of the pork to shine through. His delicate application of the condiment enabled this rib to achieve a perfect balance of flavors that elevated both the sauce and the meat to a level I have never known. Truly divine!

The "Goodbye" Course

After this incredible burst of light and sound, we metaphorically sat around playing with sparklers in the form of the “Goodbye Course” of fried blueberry pies dusted with lime sugar and served with a side of savory whipped yogurt. Again, it was a triumph in any other context.

How HUGE are those blueberries?

 

 

 

Following as it did the almost religious experience of course four, however, I couldn’t help thinking of it more as a palate cleanser. Something akin to a nightcap before I hit the road home to mull over all that I had learned at this meal and to swear silently that I will never miss attending another Farm Burger Supper ever again.

Rawr!

Fun Friday Recommended Reads

Happy Friday! Here’s a round-up of interesting stuff for you to read while hanging out in the Nicholas Pavilion of the PGA Regions Tradition golf tournament at Shoal Creek Country this weekend:

Girl Scouts censor Facebook criticism of palm oil in cookies,” Glenn Hurowitz, May 5, 2011, Grist.org.

Forget About Horses: A Bourbon Picking Guide for Derby Day, and Every Day,” Tony Sachs, May 6, 2011, HuffingtonPost.com.

How Food Explains the World,” Joshua Keating, May/June 2011, ForeignPolicy.com.

Bad seeds: A plan to phase out the $5 billion in ‘direct payment’ agricultural subsidies,” Jake Caldwell, May 4, 2011, Grist.org.

Strawberry grower shows how to make a profit without poisons ,” ONEARTH, April 26, 2011, Grist.org.

Do You Know How Many Genetically Modified Foods You’re Eating? 8 to Pay Attention To ,” Lisa Gosselin, April 25, 2011, EatingWell.com.

Gary Taubes’ sugar article makes an excellent case for diversifying agriculture,” Tom Philpott, April 22, 2011, Grist.org.

Worried about fake food dyes? 4 tips to avoid them,” Brierly Wright, April 1, 2011, EatingWell.com.

Bees feed us: now they need our help,” The Slow Food USA Blog, March 2, 2011, SlowFoodUSA.org.

Fun Friday Recommended Reads

Happy Friday! Here’s a round-up of interesting stuff for you to read while waiting for your kid to finish up that letter to the Easter Bunny or the President:

Stocking the Broke-Ass pantry, and the magical three-day chicken,” by Broke-Ass Grouch, April 21, 2011, Grist.org.

Deep Flavor, No Browning Required,” John Willoughby, March 28, 2011, NYTimes.com.

South Sings Catfish Blues,” Julie Jargon, April 14, 2011, Grist.org.

Who Owns Your Favorite Organic Brand (Infographic),” June 2009, MindBodyGreen.com.

Wendy’s Natural Cut Fries: Better Tasting, Yes. Natural, No,” Melanie Warner, April 15, 2011, Yahoo!Finance.

What doesn’t kill you makes you gourmet ,” Rebecca Solnit, February 17, 2011, Grist.com.

TV show follows evolution of exurbanites’ farm,” MARY ESCH, April 17, 2011, Yahoo!News.

Foods That Interfere with Birth Control Pills,” David L. Katz, M.D., MSN Health.

Gulf Coast Seafood One Year After the Oil Spill,” Justine Sterling, April 20, 2011, Delish.com.

Portuguese Green Olive Dip,” David Leite, July 20, 2009, Leitesculinaria.com.

Fun Friday Recommended Reads

Happy Friday! Here’s a round-up of interesting stuff for you to read while standing in line at the opening day of the Pepper Place Farmers’ Market tomorrow:

The Joy of Not Cooking,” Megan McArdle, The Atlantic.com.

Ranchers struggle against giant meatpackers and economic troubles,” Stephanie Ogburn, April 14, 2011, Grist.org.

What bean-counting ‘contrarians’ miss about the local-food movement,” Benjamin Cohen, April 14, 2011, Grist.org.

Be Food Smart,” April 13, 2011, Grist.org.

The Groupon Paradox,” Esther Dyson, March 23, 2011, Slate.com.

LARD – a love story,” April 12, 2011, WhitmoreFarm.blogspot.com.

Minnesota next up to pass law banning undercover farm videos,” Tom Laskawy, April 13, 2011, Grist.org.

Mimicking Big Tobacco, Big Soda blows smoke in Philadelphia,” Michele Simon, April 4, 2011, Grist.org.

Kitchen Stuff We Can’t Live Without—Part 3: Gadgets

Besides the plates, flatware, knives, pots, and such, every new kitchen needs gadgets and lots of ’em. These are the gadgets we believe are critical to the basic outfitting of a new kitchens:

Gadgets.

—Two or three Microplane graters. I have a Microplane 4-Sided Box Grater as well as a Microplane Classic Black Spice Grater and Microplane Grater/Zester. Do NOT buy any other kind. They suck. Trust me. (NOTE: Do NOT put your grater in the dishwasher regardless of any representations by the maker to the contrary. The black plastic “box” of my Microplane box grater cracked immediately, but even so we are still using it—albeit gingerly.)

—Vegetable peelers, both a “vertical” type like the Oxo Good Grips i-Series Swivel Peeler and a “horizontal” type like the Oxo Good Grips i-Series Y-Peeler, preferably this brand Good Grips by OXO.

—A variety of good cutting boards for different jobs. Today, more than ever, cutting boards come in a wide variety of materials from hardwoods, to renewable bamboo, to polypropylene boards you can toss harmlessly in the dishwasher. As to size, you will want a large one with a channel to catch drippings for your cooked meat carving board, such as the John Boos 18″ x 24″ Au Jus Board in Maple or the J.K. Adams 20″ x 14″ Traditional Carver. You will also want separate boards to handle raw meat and veggies, such as the Grande Epicure Polypropylene 10″ x 13-1/2″ by 8-1/2mm Utility Board or the Progressive International 17.5″ x 11.25″ Cutting Board. Be sure to clean them quickly, though, and keep your wooden ones oiled (olive oil will do) lest your apples end up tasting like your garlic. (Learned that one the hard way.)

—As to can openers, I believe going electric for most of us is way overkill—kind of like using a riding mower to edge your patio. I mean, is it honestly THAT much more effort, for those of us without a joint condition, to turn a large cushy knob than press a large cushy lever? As a result, can openers go in the drawer and cost less than $20. I like sideways, smooth-edge can openers, like the Oxo Good Grips Smooth Edge Can Opener, although my sister liked one by Pampered Chef. You won’t regret the extra cost the first time you DON’T have to dig a lid out of a can of tomatoes!

—Pyrex tempered glass wet measuring cups. Two Pyrex Prepware 1-Cup Measuring Cups and one eachPyrex Prepware 2-Cup Measuring Cup and Pyrex Prepware 1-Quart Measuring Cup.

—Set of dry measuring cups, like the MIU Stainless-Steel 7-Piece Measuring Cup Set.

—Set of All-Clad Stainless Measuring Spoon Set. I know, ridiculously expensive compared with any other ones you find, but you really can get a level measurement using these better than any others I’ve tried. 1/4 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, and 1 tablespoon are the only ones necessary. Those “pinch,” “smidgeon,” “dash” ones are stupid.

—Strainers. Who cares what kind. You will only need them every so often so don’t go more than about the size of a “cup” or two, like these Oxo Good Grips Double Rod Strainer. But do be sure to have them ’cause when you need them, you will really need them!

—Colanders. OXO Good Grips Stainless-Steel Colanders are awesome in two sizes, 3-qt and 5-qt steel.

—Pepper grinder. I have one like this one a William Bounds GP TW Pepper Mill, American Black Walnut, and I adore it in my short shelves. The only drawback is how often it must be refilled, but it works very well. I have often heard good things about ones like these, though—Pepper Mill Imports, Atlas 7″ Brass Pepper Mill, Pepper Mill Imports, Atlas 8″ Brass Pepper Mill, or Pepper Mill Imports, Atlas 8″ Chrome Plated Brass Pepper Mill.

—Reamer. To help you squeeze citrus juice and fend off random intruders (not really), the Oxo Good Grips Wooden Reamer.

—Thermometers. At the very minimum, you need a digital meat thermometer like this one, the Taylor Digital Instant-Read Pocket Thermometer and a glass frying/candy making, like this one, the Polder Glass Candy/Deep Fry Thermometer. You may also consider an oven thermometer for monitoring the temperature of your roast without having to actually open the door, like the Taylor Digital Cooking Thermometer/Timer, or just ask Santa to bring you this one in a few months—the Maverick Laser Surface Thermometer. [Please note when researching this entry, I ran across another Maverick Laser Surface Thermometer used by automotive mechanics that was significantly cheaper. I am considering going with the car repair one. I mean, how different can they really be? And, it’s not like you actually TOUCH the food with the thing….]

—Serving platter. You will need one at some point, so get it now and avoid the holiday rush. Try this set—Tag Whiteware Porcelain Dinnerware Serving Set of 3, White Platters .

—Corkscrew. There are basically two kinds of screw pulls that work easily—a cheap, fool-proof one like the Metrokane Two Step Waiter’s Corkscrew that never fails (trust me, go “two-step” on this one); or the expensive, “rabbit-style” that requires first reading an instruction manual like these– Metrokane Houdini Lever-Style Corkscrew or Pinzon Matte Chrome-Plated Corkscrew. I own two of the cheap, “waiter” ones and none of the second.

—Vinturi Wine Aerators. Who needs decanters when pouring wine through one of these brilliant babies will make everything all better in a jiffy? Be sure to get Vinturi Essential Wine Aerators, Red Wine and White Wine, Set of 2—one for red and one for white—and don’t get ’em confused.

And in the optional but really cool category are: (1) a Stone (Granite) Mortar and Pestle, 7″, 2+ cup capacity—useful for marinades, pestos, salad dressing, curries, and more; and (2) an inexpensive carbon steel wok from an Asian grocery store like this one 14″ Carbon Steel Hand Hammered Wok (including wok ring)—useful if you like high-heat sauté and have a very powerful, hot burner that can really make use of it.

Next time, we’ll talk about appliances we can’t live without! Bon appetite!

Bitchin’ Kitchen

Cooking channel has a hilarious new show called “Bitchin’ Kitchen.”  Nadia G.’s over-the-top wardrobe and matching personality, the ever-changing set, and subtle hints of her dark side certainly make this series more about entertainment than actual cooking tips.  On the other hand, you might be surprised what you pick-up along the way.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉