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NEW WEBSITE!

May 8, 2012

All,

I have some great news. After almost two years of blogging, this little journal is finally growing up and will be self hosted, with a new fancy design and everything, thanks to my good friend Lindsay from Love & Olive Oil.

The new site will be located at: www.viveksepicureanadventures.com  – so go check it out and explore it a little! The current web address will automatically forward over to the new site.

However, if you are signed up for email updates, please take a minute to subscribe to the new feed on the right side of the site. (It’s just one of those WordPress quirks which doesn’t transfer over when you create a new site – sorry!)

Thank you all for reading. Regular blogging will resume…Now! Here’s my first post on my Chicago trip.

Pork Shoulder Slow Roasted | Salsa Verde and a Turnip Truck Gift Card Giveaway!

March 15, 2012

I can barely believe spring is already upon us. It seems as if we never actually had a winter. We had 70 degree weather in February, it “snowed” once or twice, and I barely turned on the heater this year (so my gas bill was low!) In fact, the only thing “wintery” about this winter was that my blog went into a little hibernation!

Rest assured, we’re getting back up to full speed! The ole blog is getting a top to bottom remodeling job and I can’t wait to show it to you guys. In the meantime, I’ve also started writing restaurant reviews with Zarna on a new site – 2 Dine for Nashville, which has been an absolute joy. So thanks for bearing with me through the change. As we get into spring and the farmers markets are abundant with fresh produce, epicurean adventures will be all back to normal.

In the meantime, I thought I’d pop in and share some knowledge on some cool things. You see, after the CSA season ended in December, I was at a loss for what to do. I no longer had 10 lbs of kale sitting around, or a mound of sweet potatoes, or even a teeny-tiny radish. Transitioning from the bounty of farm fresh ingredients, I found it difficult to make meals. I almost forgot what it was like to go grocery shopping. But, after our CSA experiment, I was determined to find and support a fine local establishment.

Luckily for us in Nashville, we have The Turnip Truck, a locally owned grocery store committed to selling the finest natural, organic foods and showcasing local artisans. Ever since the Turnip Truck moved to the Gulch, I always had it in my market rotation, for nothing else than to pick up my Springer Mountain Farms (Georgia) chicken for the week. It’s the best chicken I’ve ever had and at $8 for a whole bird, you can’t go wrong. But lately, I’ve been going there weekly to pick up fresh produce, meat, grains, cheese, and of course, beer.

The meat counter is one of the better ones in town and for me, that’s huge. One day I walked in and needed to pick up 3 pounds of chicken thighs for some sausage I was making. I asked the friendly butcher who said he only had whole birds, but was willing to cut 3 lbs of thighs fresh, just for me. That’s customer service, folks! He was quick and efficient and by the time I got done walking around the rest of the store (i.e. eating all the free samples), my chicken thighs were ready to go. Thank you, sir.

All of their beef and pork is certified organic and comes from a co-op of farms in Wisconsin. The steaks I got one day (ribeyes) were fantastic and the butcher even cut them to my specifications (2 inches thick, please!) And when I wanted pork shoulder for this dish, they were kind enough to order me some and had it in the next day.

Speaking of pork, let’s get to the meat of the matter. Pork shoulder is one of my favorite cuts of meat. And as we are leaving the winter months, I needed just one more slow cooked, braised dish that would warm me up from the inside. A way to say goodbye to winter, but hello to spring. Slow cooked pork, with a salsa verde made out of cilantro, rosemary, capers, lemon juice and olive oil is a match made in heaven. The salsa verde (not to be confused with a tomatillo salsa) cuts right through the richness of the meat and since it’s chock full of herbs, its the perfect condiment during spring. And let me tell you, It’s good on a roast chicken, a steak, or a piece of fish. Make a big batch and eat it all week!

Slow Roasted Pork with Salsa Verde

(recipe courtesy of Vivek Surti)

2 lbs of pork shoulder

2 oranges, zested and juiced

2 limes, zested and juiced

5 cloves of garlic, smashed

1/4 cup rosemary leaves

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup olive oil

kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

Combine the orange zest, lime zest, garlic, rosemary, olive oil and honey. Season with salt and pepper. Rub mixture all over the pork. Put the pork in a roasting pan and pour the citrus juice into the bottom of the pan.

Roast the pork for about 4 hours until it is meltingly tender. Remove the meat from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes. Shred the meat with your hands or two forks, or chill overnight and slice with a knife. Serve with salsa verde, some warm tortillas, and pickled onions.

Salsa Verde

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 tablespoons rosemary leaves, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 cup capers, drained and chopped

2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped

1 lemon, zested and juiced

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

kosher salt and black pepper

Combine the cilantro, basil, rosemary, garlic, capers, jalapenos, and lemon zest in a food processor until thoroughly incorporated, but still chunky. Mix in the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Now, the part I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for is the GIVEAWAY. The kind folks over at The Turnip Truck have offered to give one of you a $50 gift card to shop there! That’s like a week’s worth of groceries! Or a weekend full of great steak!

Here’s what you have to do to enter: Leave a comment on this post saying what you would use the $50 on at the Turnip Truck (and let me know if you shop there too!) CONTEST CLOSES: THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED

Doing the following will get you additional entries and more chances to win!

1. Follow me on twitter and tweet “I just entered to win a $50 giftcard to @TurnipTruckWest courtesy of @viveksurti! Enter here: http://wp.me/pXbmX-oP” and leave a comment that you have done so.

2. Like my page on Facebook, and leave a comment about that too!

3. Follow @TurnipTruckWest on twitter and (you get the gist) leave a comment!

4. Like the Turnip Truck Facebook page and spread the word that you did!

AFTER you’ve done all that, you’ll have 5 chances in the running to win your Turnip Truck gift card!

Lastly, if you’re interested in learning more about the meats they carry, Turnip Truck is going to have some awesome classes in April, with a tour of their meat department so you can learn what grass fed, sustainable, natural, certified organic and all that good labeling stuff means. The dates and details on how to sign up are below!

Thursday April 12th 6:00-7:00pm
Saturday April 14th 10:00-11:00am
(321 12th Ave South- Nashville 37203)

Classes are free but space is limited. To sign up for this class, please email kathryn@theturniptruck.com.

Happy shopping, folks.

Cheers,

Vivek

2011: My Favorite Bites, Sips, and Adventures!

January 5, 2012

2011 was a rollercoaster of a year. It was, in fact, my first full year of blogging. I’ve had the honor of writing for a start up publication – The Double Standard, and in a few weeks be part of the writing team for a new website – 2 Dine For Nashville (feel free to follow us on twitter!) – with my lovely sister, Zarna. I (somehow) was “qualified” to be a judge for a Nashville Lifestyle’s Bartender Bash, the Southern Hot Wing Festival, and a cookoff amongst Real Estate companies. I competed in the Music City Hot Chicken Festival and the Music City Chili Cookoff. I joined a CSA and got great/local produce for the entirety of the growing season. I started a new job and spent a lot of time moving out of a house I had lived in for the better part of 2 decades. I’m hoping for big things in 2012 and can’t wait to keep blogging and sharing my adventures with y’all – thank you, as always, for being along for the ride.

I took some time over the holiday to reflect on the past year. Of course, memories of the year are even better when there is food involved! So with that, here is a list of my favorite bites, sips, and adventures of 2011.

#10: The Sweet Stash: Cookie Sammie’s

(Photo Courtesy of The Sweet Stash)

I was never a huge desert person. Then, I ate Whitney’s oatmeal cookie sandwich. Two large crispy and chewy oatmeal cookies sandwiching cinnamon buttercream. There was an all out war amongst foodies in Nashville to see who could get to the market early enough to pick them up. Sometimes, I could see [insert unnamed friend here] buying the last few cookies just seconds before I made it to the counter. THEN, Whitney came out with a second cookie sammie. Peanut butter cookies with chocolate buttercream and rolled in salted peanuts. HOLY. Most recently, there are gingerbread cookies with lemon buttercream. GENIUS. I get one almost every weekend. I can’t stop eating them!

#9: House of Kabob, Braised Lamb Shank

I’m really hesitant to tell you about this dish and this restaurant. I’ve been coming here religiously for over 7 years. It is amazing, authentic, delicious Kurdish food. I’ve had everything on the menu, but my absolute favorite is the braised lamb shank served with yellow rice with housemade hot sauce and yogurt. The lamb is braised to perfection in a rich tomato broth until succulent and delicious (plus you can suck the marrow from the bones!) It is quite possibly the best piece of lamb I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve probably eaten it a hundred times. House of Kabob is my little secret treasure in Nashville and after many years of keeping it secret, I’m willing to share. Go try it. And for my good friends that don’t like lamb, try the joojeh (Cornish hen) kabob – some of the best chicken you’ll ever eat.

#8: Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese

A bunch of Nashville Food Bloggers got the opportunity to go on a trip to see how cheese was made from a real dairy farm. This year really was a lot about learning where my food comes from and who produces it. I’ve been hooked on Kenny’s cheese since the trip and I love seeing Jennifer and Robin’s faces every week at the Farmer’s Market. Mac N Cheese just wouldn’t be as good without some of Kenny’s aged cheddar.

#7: Nashville Food Trucks

Check out the video from Eat Street where I was featured talking about The Grilled Cheeserie (go to 15:20)

At this time last year, Nashville had about 2 food trucks. Now, the list has grown to almost 40. That is one helluva trend. I love the food truck movement, and I love the delicious morsels I get to grab from these decked out mobile kitchens. I was even featured on The Food Network’s Cooking Channel show Eat Street (twice!). A few of my favorite dishes are the kao mun gai from Deg Thai Truck, bahn mi from Riff’s Fine Street Food, the pimento mac n cheese melt from The Grilled Cheeserie, the brisket tacos from Smoke et Al, and the tiger wings from Jonbalaya. I can’t wait to try out more food trucks in the coming year. If you’re not on the bandwagon, you need to be.

#6: Fido, Local Burger

I’ve eaten a lot of burgers this year. I’ve even made a few. But nothing compares to Chef John Stephenson’s Local Burger from Fido. A mix of local beef and lamb, with Kenny’s cheese, caramelized fennel, fried onions, fig mayo, and an amazing bun. It’s just perfection between two slices of bread. A few friends of mine have accompanied me and now we all make special trips to Fido just to get this burger.

#5: ChaChah, Chef’s Tasting Menu

This was the first tasting menu I’ve ever done in my life. Before this, I could never afford one on my student budget. Lucky for me, during the first restaurant week of 2011, celebrity chef Arnold Myint churned out a 5 course tasting menu that literally blew my mind.

#4: PDT Cocktail Lounge (NYC)

Secret entrance through a fake phone booth. Painstaking attention to detail. Amazing cocktails. Hot dogs with deep fried mayo (courtesy of Wylie Dufrense) and wrapped in bacon with kimchi (courtesy of David Chang). A not to be missed spot in New York.

#3: City House

Sometimes there are restaurants you go to, just to try things out. Then there are places that you crave and entice you to keep coming back for more. City House is the place I always want to have dinner at. Chef Tandy Wilson makes all the food I want to eat. Homemade salami, a frico of montasio cheese covering roasted potatoes, a salad of octopus, thin and crispy pizza topped with house made belly ham, a beautiful wood oven roasted chicken, or house made sausage. I want to eat everything I see on that menu, all the time. The drinks (especially the kubric) are phenomenal and I especially love the Sunday Suppers, where Chef Tandy prepares a meal of snacks that people can order and share with their dining companions. Any meal with pork snacks (crispy pig ears, fried pig tails buffalo style, high life ribs, homemade corndogs, etc) makes me happy.

#2: The Catbird Seat

By far the best restaurant experience I’ve had up until this point in my life. It was exciting, unexpected, revolutionary, thought provoking, and of course, mighty tasty. It’s certainly an occasion dinner spot, but I really hope I can go back soon. Chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson are doing real special work here.

#1: Charcutepalooza

No single adventure has changed me more than being a part of this incredible blogging community. I’ve written enough about it in numerous posts over the course of the year. Learning techniques on curing, salting, smoking, grinding, and brining will stick with me for a long time. I love making my own bacon and sausage. I appreciate knowing where my meat comes from and how it’s grown. The relationships and people I’ve met along the way will be my friends for a very long time. When I started this adventure, I had no idea what an impact it would have on me. Out of over 400 people nationally, I was honored to be one of 10 semifinalists. I guess it just goes to show that if you have the opportunity to try something, at least try it out. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Now, onto 2012! Cheers,

Vivek

Turkey Burger | Habanero BBQ Sauce | Crispy Bacon

December 17, 2011

 

You might think after Thanksgiving that I would be turkey-d out. I ate turkey for days – in sandwiches, in chili, in soup. But alas, when it comes to burgers, I get weak in the knees.

I can’t resist them. And when my friends were coming over on Sunday to watch some football, it was really just an excuse for me to fire up the grill (even in this chilly weather) and crank out some burgers.

They are all spicy food lovers (as you can imagine most Indian people are), so I made a really quick habanero BBQ sauce and put some bacon in the oven as the charcoal was doing it’s thing in the chimney starter.

This BBQ sauce could pretty much go on anything – on a burger, on some chicken, or sloppy joes! It’s really quite tasty and has a nice balance of spicy and sweet.

When grilling turkey burgers, I always recommend to get the ground dark meat as it is a lot juicier than ground white meat. You have to keep an eye on the burgers because they can overcook in an instant.

Turkey Burgers | Homemade Habanero BBQ Sauce | Crispy Bacon

(Recipe courtesy of Vivek Surti)

For the sauce:

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

3 habanero chiles, chopped (you can take the seeds out if you want…but why would you?)

1 tsp ground coriander

1 T ancho chile powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup sorghum (or molasses)

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, pureed in a blender

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Saute the onion in a little bit of oil over medium heat. When the onion is translucent, add the garlic, thyme, and habanero and cook for about 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add the coriander, cumin, and ancho chile powder and cook for another minute. Add the pureed tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the brown sugar, sorghum, and vinegar. Let cook for about 30 minutes on simmer until the sauce becomes thicker.

Put everything in the blender and buzz the sauce until it’s smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If it’s too spicy for you, feel free to add more sugar or sorghum.

For the burgers:

1 lb. ground dark turkey meat, separated into 1/4 lb pieces and formed into patties

4 slices pepper jack cheese

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 hamburger buns

8 slices of bacon, cooked

Heat your grill to high. Season the turkey with salt and pepper aggressively on both sides. Brush them with oil and lay them on the hottest part of the grill and let cook until a nice crust has formed on one side, about 4-5 minutes. Flip the burger over and move to a spot where the heat is medium, cover with cheese, and then cover the grill. Cook until the cheese is melted and the burger is cooked through, another 4-5 minutes. Remove from the grill and let rest for about 2 minutes. Toast the buns on the grill if you wish.

When assembling, top the burger with BBQ sauce, some crispy bacon, and lettuce, because well, we all need something green.

 

Cheers,

Vivek

Charcutepalooza Project #12 – The Grand Finale

December 6, 2011

Charcutepalooza – The Year of Meat – has been one helluva journey. Even as I sit down and write this post, I can barely believe that (a) it’s been a year (oh how the time flies as you get older!) and (b) that this amazing project of salting, curing, drying, grinding, stretching, and brining meat is coming to a close.

As the brainchild of Mrs. Wheelbarrow (Cathy) and The Yummy Mummy (Kim), a community of foodies came together from all over the world to do one charcuterie project once a month for a year. Some members have done charcuterie for quite some time and were looking to develop their skills further. There were chefs, butchers, and farmers who had tons of experience and were thrilled that other people were interested in this age old craft. Then, there were the amateurs – like me. My biggest exposure to charcuterie was pepperoni, bacon, and sausage pizza – ubiquitously known was “meat lovers” in my house. But handmade, artisanal charcuterie? I didn’t know anything about it. I had no idea what a rillette or a pate or a mousseline was. A galantine sounded like a weapon used in the French Revolution. Coming from a largely vegetarian family, I was considered a “weirdo” because a few years ago, I learned how to butcher a whole chicken. My mom and sister would kindly excuse themselves from the chicken if I ever popped a whole bird out of the grocery bag. And they wouldn’t come in until all the work was done, and all the counters cleaned. I’m sure they also would’ve preferred that I pressure wash the whole house down.

So, you can imagine their surprise when I told them about this little task (suckers!)

I found out about Charcutepalooza by reading my friend, Nicki Wood’s post on the Nashville Scene Blog, Bites. Immediately, I was interested. I had just recently started this blog and was, quite honestly, looking for some people who would read my incessant ramblings and follow my adventures in all epicurean endeavors. I was also, unemployed at the time, and literally had nothing to do. And it struck me – what better to do than these crazy a$$ meat projects that can take up to a few weeks to complete. BRILLIANT! I quickly signed up on Cathy’s website and I saw that there were about 100 other participants. Within 3 days, that number almost tripled. This was going to be fun…a lot of fun. And I couldn’t wait to get started.

Throughout this year, we have done some incredible projects. Just look at this list. Each month had its own story and a lesson learned. This was, after all, a journey, an adventure.

January ProjectSalting – Duck Proscuitto

February ProjectCuring – Homemade Bacon

*FEATURED ON FOOD52 by The Yummy Mummy as one of the best pictures. Click here to see it!

March ProjectBrining – Homemade Corned Beef

*FEATURED ON FOOD52 by The Yummy Mummy as one of the best blog posts. Click here to check it out!

April ProjectSmoking – Canadian Bacon

May Project: Grinding – Merguez Sausage Lettuce Wraps

June Project: Stuffing – Tandoori Chicken Sausage

July Project: Blending – Mortadella

August Project: Binding – Shrimp and Salmon Mousseline

September Project: Packing – Indian Style Pork Pie

October Project: Stretching – Confit Pork Cheek Rillettes

November Project: Curing – Pepperoni and Whole Pig Butchering

*FEATURED ON FOOD 52 by The Yummy Mummy as one of the best blog posts. Click here to check it out!

December Project: Showing Off – This is the one you’re reading🙂

Our project for this month was to make a feast that showed off all of our mad charcuterie skills. I was extremely happy to invite some close friends over and we really went to town on some awesome food. We ate:

Chicken Liver Pate with Bourbon Gelee – a delicious dish that got DEVOURED before I could even take a picture! The chicken liver pate was extremely creamy and well seasoned. The bourbon gelee was made with a little bit of apple juice and had great acidity to cut through the richness of the pate.

Homemade Bratwursts with Dijon Cheddar Fondue and Caramelized Onions – I made this dish for the Superbowl last year with store bought brats. The dish was so good, that I had to make it with my homemade brats. It’s a spectacular dish that can be made into a cute appetizer like this, or just served in a great bun, covered in cheese sauce and onions. Oh, baby!

Porchetta – brined pork loin, wrapped in cured pork belly, which was hot smoked for an hour and then finished off in the oven. I was so proud of this dish. I cured the pork belly in salt, sugar, fennel seed, and garlic for two days. The pork loin was brined for about 4 hours. I made a paste of herbs with tons of rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, black pepper, and red chile flakes, which I rubbed all over the pork loin. I wrapped the pork loin (almost) all the way around with the cured pork belly. The whole thing was roasted in the oven with lemon, onions, and the potatoes that ended up being cooked in the rendered fat of the porchetta. This was truly one of the best dishes I have ever made.

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potatoes Confit (cooked in pork fat)

It was just one of those special meals, eaten throughout the day while watching our hometown Tennessee Titans. We ate the pate and the brats as the game started. We drank a few beers. We cheered (mostly) and cried (on a few really bad plays). And as we sat back enjoying everyone’s company, the smell of that amazing porchetta started drifting through the house. The intoxicating aroma of roasted pork belly, fennel, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and lemon zest was slowly taking up all the real estate in those olfactory glands. And soon, everyone started drifting back to the kitchen. As the porchetta roasted, mouths were salivating. As the first piece was sliced, everyone’s hands went towards it. The meat came apart easily because it was so tender.

And then, there was silence. Slices of porchetta put on plates. A few “mmms” and a lot of  “wows”. And one guy saying “this is so good, you could slap ya mama!” But rest assured, I didn’t. It’s one of our Southern sayings that means “really, really good”.

After we finished eating, we sat back, drank a few more beers, and just watched football. As night fell and the afternoon games ended, people started leaving one by one. Most of them just needed a nap after a food filled afternoon. And to be honest, I layed down on the couch for quite some time before I started cleaning up.

But as I started cleaning everything up, I couldn’t help but take time to reflect. From when I started on this adventure to when I finished, I have literally changed as a home cook and as a person. I have opted to understand where my food comes from, by participating in a community supported agriculture program as opposed to finding everything at the grocery store. I have overcome almost every single dining fear I’ve ever had – eating whole animal, including liver, kidneys, hearts, brains, headcheese, belly, collars, intestines, and tongues among others. I cook with these ingredients and embrace them because of the respect I want to show to the animals giving their lives for food. And lastly, I have developed incredible relationships with some really special people. In January, there were places I went to buy things from other people. In December, I walk into the same store or a stand, and I share stories with my friends.

For my entire life, we have always shopped at a grocery megamart and an Indian grocery story. Sometimes during the summer, we would go to the farmer’s market, but that was about it. My parents did, however, always grow a lot of Indian vegetables during the summer in our backyard. But come January, I signed us up for our first ever full CSA season. It wasn’t open until the middle of May, but we started making a commitment to eating more local and seasonal food. It was quite the transformation. I went from sleeping in late on Saturday mornings, to waking up at 8 AM and getting ready to go several different markets. I had a chance to talk to farmers who sold me what they grew and harvested with their own hands. I could sense the passion in my farmer, Eric’s voice when he talked about the delicious carrots he grew – his favorite vegetable! When put to my taste test, I was blown away. I never had a carrot which tasted so…carrott-y? Is that even a word?

As I walked through the market, you could just see community being built. Patrons talking to their farmers. A few sprinkled musicians. Children running around. And people walking their dogs, who you could tell just wanted to dig into some great food or just take a nap.

With Charcutepalooza, finding out where my meat came from was always very important to me. I was able, throughout this year, to try so many different meats from a variety of farms. That is the game you play – try everything, then figure out what you like. You will find something really special. (If you’re in Nashville, that means get your hands on some Wedge Oak Farm chickens, Emerald Glen’s thick cut pork chops, or Triple L Farms beef). Please, thank me later.

These great producers helped me make amazing, delicious food. And that taste could never be replicated in factory farm raised animals.

I started this whole experience never really knowing where my food came from or the people that produced it. Making the food was amazing, but it was difficult, challenging, and frustrating at times. But what kept me going, even through my duck prosciutto disaster or the utter failure of the pepperoni, was that I didn’t want to let the people who had raised this animal down. Producing food for us is their livelihood – they work harder and longer than anyone else either you or I know. They are remarkable people, with their own stories to share. And I am proud to call them friends.

Tom Lazzaro holding up a hefty piece of pancetta

Tom Lazzaro makes the best pasta I’ve ever eaten. His Italian shop – Lazzaroli Pasta – is a welcoming place where one can get all manner of Italian foods – from his freshly prepared ravioli and pasta, to homemade sauces, cheeses, oils, vinegars, and of course, salumi! It was through Tom that I had a taste of what great salami should be, as he sources from Armandino Batali of Salumi Artisan Meats in Seattle. Everyone who goes into this shop is one of Tom’s friends and you feel like family when you are there. You can always spot Tom’s wife, Debbie, at the cash register on the weekends and Debbie’s mom in the back, helping Tom make ravioli. Besides the incredulous sight of seeing a man and his mother in law get along, the atmosphere here just makes you feel good. I’ve shared many charcuterie items with Tom and he is always quick to let me know once new items, like Lardo or Guanciale, become available at the shop. Tom even tipped me off to try City House, which is about a half block from his shop. It has since become my favorite restaurant in town.

That’s me getting a slab of spareribs from Weldon Hawkins of Emerald Glen Farm. (His PETA shirt says: People Eating Tasting Animals)

This is Weldon Hawkins – a 8th generation farmer. His family has owned Emerald Glen Farm for over 204 years! Weldon is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life. Besides being an amazing farmer that grows some of the best pork, chicken, and beef I’ve ever had, he’s also very active in the fight for sustainable, organic farming. And I love that in his biweekly emails, he shares stories of life on the farm and even gives us a few recommendations on books to read! Sometimes things at the farm are great (at one point, Weldon gave me 6 dozen eggs because he had too many). And sometimes, predators kill the turkey that I was gonna have for Thanksgiving. But, alas, such is the life. Weldon and his wife, Ariana, make their work seem effortless.

In fact, at this moment, every single piece of meat I have in my fridge or freezer is from them. And I’m proud to say that if I can buy from them, I do and I try to choose their products over anything in the grocery store as much as I can. Most recently, Weldon hooked me up with 30 lbs of pork belly. Most of that became bacon, but you’ll also recognize that some of the belly was used in the porchetta for the last supper!

Chris Moran is a Cajun boy – straight from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He started coming to Nashville during the summer, wanting to provide our very meager seafood supply with some fresh caught fish and shellfish straight from the gulf. Chris travels from Louisiana to Nashville every single week and operates out of the farmer’s market Thursday-Sunday. We rarely ate seafood, because it just wasn’t available here. Every now and then we would have shrimp. But thanks to Chris, we have seafood at least once and usually twice a week! I loved using his shrimp when making the shrimp-salmon mousseline.

Sometimes, you need something be an accessory to all of your cured meats. And nothing is better than Kathleen Cotter’s cheese stand, The Bloomy Rind. She sources great artisanal cheese from around the US, with a stunning inventory from the southeastern US. Her collection of cheese is always varied and no one knows cheese better than Kathleen.

And let’s be honest. What goes better with great cured meat products than some curdled milk products! Well, maybe fermented grape products…but curdled milk creations are always welcome!

Food, on its surface, is always about the taste of flavor of a dish. But food is also inextricably tied to people. The people who produce it, the people who cook it, and the people who use food as a vehicle to build communities and relationships with others. The journey of charcutepalooza elucidated that simple concept to me more than anything – it’s about real food and real people.

It’s learning to try something new, and not being afraid of it.

It’s accepting your failures, and learning from them.

It’s celebrating your triumphs, and sharing it with the world.

I will forever be grateful to Cathy and Kim for allowing me to be a part of this amazing adventure. I have to thank Michael Ruhlman for providing us with the knowledge and advice in his book, Charcuterie. He was also always available for any of us through twitter, which was simply impressive. You all have shown me things that I never dreamed of and for that I will always be grateful.

And to you, the reader, who has been on this journey with me, what a ride it has been. Although charcutepalooza comes to an end, the things I have learned will be with me forever. The skills and techniques are now part of my repertoire, just like how sauteing, braising, grilling, or roasting are. The relationships with the people who produce my food is one that I hope to grow and continue for a long, long time. And even though the challenge ends, I have no doubt that I will continue this Epicurean Adventure. As one door closes, another opens. And I, for one, can’t wait to see where next year will take me! Hopefully, it won’t run my family out of the kitchen🙂

Cheers,

Vivek

Charcutepalooza Project #11: Curing and The Butchery of the Whole Pig

December 1, 2011

Sometimes, you take up a pretty hard project. You have determination, sure. You have confidence. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve had some previous success that has bolstered your bravado so much that you think everything will go according to your plan. I mean, it should all be so effortless with a flawless finale, right?

Unfortunately for me, this was not my month, nor was it my best challenge. Earlier in the year, I thought I was the man – I made my own bacon (and it was awesome), I put 30 lbs of pork butt and 20 lbs of pork fat through a meat grinder and made tons of really, really tasty sausage. Hog jowls were expertly butchered and simmered slowly in their own fat for the better part of a day, before being pounded into rillettes. My own hot dogs? That was a cinch. But at some point, the charcuterie gods saw fit to strike down my hubris and leave me with a few strings of porky mold.

I was a bit heartbroken. And to be honest, I was too scared that I was going to get the plague if I even attempted to take a bite.

You see, dried cured sausage is one of my favorite things on the planet. Aged Spanish chorizo entices me with the smoky heat of paprika and garlic. Italian Finocchiona, redolent of black pepper and fennel seed is perfect on a small slice of baguette and some extra virgin olive oil. And don’t even get me started on how much I love, nay adore pepperoni – ubiquitous on pizza slices all around the world, but a truly extraordinary product when done the old fashioned way.

Pepperoni was what I sought to make. The spicy cured sausage would be fantastic just thinly sliced before dinner, or cooked in tomatoes to adorn pasta, as a thick chunky sauce to sit below a roast chicken, and yes, even on some of my homemade pizza. This is what I had been waiting for.

As I got all my spices together and mixed them with the meat, put it through the grinder, and stuffed everything into casings, my mouth was literally watering. It was going to take some time, but dammit I wanted some pepperoni (or peperone as Ruhlman calls it).

The sausage links were there…ready to be hung. I don’t really have any fancy curing room, or one of those cool wine fridges. The garage in our old house was perfect, but since we moved, I had never let anything cure and dry at our new house. I put those gorgeous links up in a corner of the garage.

The first few days, they looked amazing. But soon to come was tragedy. Utter tragedy. Humiliation! Failure! Oh, the horror!

We had to go out of town. That means, I couldn’t check on my project for 2 entire days, to eliminate any mold, had it occurred. And on that weekend, the schizophrenic nature of Tennessee’s weather proved itself worthy of messing up everything. 75 degrees one day, 40 degrees at night, 50 degrees the other day and almost freezing the next night. And, it rained.

Long story short, when we got back home on Sunday night, I anxiously ran to the garage to check on the sausages.  And there it was. My beautiful pepperoni covered in a blue-ish, green mold. I tried the tricks – I tried to scrape it off, I added vinegar. But, alas, it was beyond repair. It was ruined.

My dad even came to the garage, saw what had happened, and had the audacity to laugh and then leave shaking his head. At first, I was pretty mad. Like, about to punch the garage wall mad. I had put a ton of work into this sausage and the freakin’ weather killed it.

But after a day or two, and as I started writing this post, I came to the realization that I can’t expect everything to always work out. Sometimes, things like this happen. Sometimes, you just have one really big &%&-up. You just have to move on.

Why?

Because isn’t that really what Charcutepalooza is all about? It’s about getting out of your comfort zone. (Please remember, my first effort at making duck prosciutto was a MISERABLE failure). It’s about trying something – whether you succeed or fail. Everything doesn’t always have to work out perfectly. Because when you fail, you learn from your mistakes (or simply, pony up $200 to get a wine fridge).

You are humbled. I was humbled. And even though I failed at this one challenge, at least I tried. I (almost) made something that I would have never in my wildest dreams imagined. This whole Charcutepalooza thing has CHANGED the way I cook, the way I see ingredients. Hell, I even charcutepalooza’ed my turkey for Thanksgiving this year! I’ve learned so much that even a small set back, like my failed pepperoni, can’t take away all of the great things I’ve learned and all the amazing relationships I’ve made.

So even though I really tanked this one, I wanted to share a story that really was something that took me out of my comfort zone – a true epicurean adventure, that has something to do with that picture at the top of this post.

Chef Jeremy Barlow about to take the power tools out!

This year, I’ve met and developed friendships with a lot of local chefs. One of them happens to be Jeremy Barlow. Jeremy is the chef/owner of Nashville’s first and only green certified restaurant, Tayst. He also, recently, cooked at the James Beard Foundation house this summer (and that’s a pretty big deal). He’s such a supporter of the local food movement, that if you go into his walk in cooler at Tayst, he can not only tell you what farm every ingredient came from, but how it is grown, and who grew it. His commitment to sustainability and improving our local food economy is inspiring.

Jeremy opened up a new sandwich shop called Sloco. Everything here is made from scratch – the smoked ham, home cured bacon, the bread, EVERYTHING. It’s my kind of sandwich shop. But, Jeremy and his staff also bring in a whole pig almost every week and butcher it in front of a huge window that looks out at the street. You always see these kids walking by and glaring at a pig’s head. Some people will walk by and be so intrigued – it’s a conversation starter, it shocks you a little bit, but most importantly, it tells you where your food comes from. And that’s really something that is part of Charcutepalooza’s mission.

I asked Jeremy when he opened up the new shop if I could ever come in and see him butcher a pig. So one lucky day, I got the call. The pig was in the shop and Chef Jeremy was going to wait for me. I was pretty excited when I got there. THe shop was about to close up for the day, so I grabbed myself a sandwich and just dug in. Jeremy is also quite playful and had prepared a “McRib” special – slow cooked pork ribs that had been deboned, topped with a homemade BBQ sauce, and sauteed onions and pickles. It was AMAZING. And for all you Charcutepaloozer’s, there was also a headcheese sandwich!

Once everything died down, I washed up, put on an apron, got a knife and was ready to go. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures while dismembering this beautiful animal, as my hands got quite porky and his staff (who I’m sure found me to be quite the nuissance) was busy prepping for the next day.

It was a great experience and I have to thank Jeremy for allowing me to really do a good majority of the work. He showed me a few cuts at the beginning, helped me with the power tools, and got more involved towards the end, because I apparently “work slower than a grandmother” at some of these tasks. Regardless, for most of the time, Jeremy was pretty patient with me and let me do most of the work, while he sat back and relaxed. The shop was closed, he turned up the music, and grabbed a beer…and then proceeded to let me have at it.

To the untrained eye, this is pretty daunting. But it really surprised me how simple it was. In the forefront, you have the pork shoulder (Boston Butt). All the way down the right side, you have the pork loin, where your pork chops and roasts come from. All the way down the left, you have the ribs. Underneath the ribs, you have pork belly (my favorite cut of meat…ever). And in the back, you have the ham. I knew a good amount of where things come from on a pig, but I  learned a lot by finally experiencing it.

After about 2 and a half hours, we broke down the entire pig, skinned them, and put everything for storage. The pork belly was quickly put into a cure for bacon. The loin and tenderloins where cut and taken to Tayst. The ham was going to be smoked and ready for the incredible ham and cheese sandwiches. And all the bones and trotters were put in the stock pot.

Not a single ounce of that pig was wasted. Every part was used. That is the glory of going whole animal. If we are to know where our food comes from, to support these great local farmers, we must be able to think in a way that broadens our horizons. To use different items. At the very least, you should know what you are eating, instead of some hunk of indistinguishable meat.

And if you’ve never used it before, just try it. You may fail – the dish might really suck. But keep at it, because there are only a few things holding you back. Be careful. Pay attention to detail. Have respect for the ingredients that you are using. These are the things that I’ve learned on this journey.

You can be damn sure I will try dried sausages again – there is no doubt about that in my mind.  I may get a wine fridge, through!

But this month, I really came back down to earth.  I went back to basics and learned things about butchery I had never known before. I came back with a renewed spirit, a new notch on my experience, and with more respect for these great local and organically raised ingredients.

That ole pile of porky mold, predestined to be pepperoni, will always remain in my memory. However, it’s no longer a memory that conveys sadness. It’s a memory that will remind me of rejuvenation, redemption, and respect.

So, on to the next one!

Cheers,

Vivek

My Thanksgiving Turkey!

November 29, 2011

Oh! The Thanksgiving holidays. By now, it has come and gone. Most of us are back to the normal routine. But it’s only Tuesday. And I am still “recovering” from a few days off work, and a lazy, food filled holiday.

Besides playing a round of golf on Saturday afternoon, I lived in about 3 spots over the course of 5 days – the kitchen, the couch, and my bedroom. It was glorious.

Mom and I have become masters of the stress free Thanksgiving. We start cooking 3 days out, and just do a little bit every day. The entire meal, in all of its gluttonous glory, comes together effortlessly. This year, before the first guests arrived, all the food was ready, the turkey was resting, and I was sitting down with a great bourbon watching the Packers-Lions game.

If you didn’t know, this was actually only our 3rd time making a turkey at home. We never had much of a Thanksgiving dinner growing up – in fact, we just ate pretty basic Indian food.

The first year, I brined the turkey and roasted it whole and it actually came out really well! Last year, I was influenced by Tom Colicchio, who says he never brines his turkey. I didn’t brine it. The turkey was good, but frankly, not as good as the brined bird, in my opinion. This year, I did something really wacky.

Given my charcutepalooza adventures, I sourced a really great, local and organic turkey from a nearby farm – Wedge Oak Farms. That baby came in at 16 lbs. I took out my butcher’s knife and broke it down – 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 breasts, and 2 wings. I removed the meat from the legs and thighs to make a fresh turkey sausage. I used all the wings, bones, giblets, and carcass to make a great turkey stock. And then, I brined the breasts, butterflied them, and stuffed them with my homemade sausage. This roulade went into the oven and baked in about an hour and a half.

It was DELICIOUS. The meat was succulent and juicy, the sausage added great flavor, and (my favorite part) the skin was extra crispy! Not to mention, all I had to do was slice it and put it on a plate for everyone to dig into. Cleanup was a cinch. And those slices fit just perfectly on some bread for sandwiches the next day!

I mean, I may start including turkey in my regular rotation of meals, because this one is too good to only have once a year!

Dark Meat Sausage Stuffed Turkey Breast

(Recipe courtesy of Vivek Surti)

1 16 lb turkey

Break down the turkey yourself, or have your butcher do it. You want to remove the wings, take the breasts off the bone and separate the tenderloins. Then, take the legs off, and debone them. Reserve the wings, bones, and carcass for turkey stock.

For the sausage:

Deboned thigh, let, and tenderloin meat, cut into small dice

1/2 cup of diced pork fat (optional) – I didn’t put this in mine because I have a lot of non-pork eaters that come over, but it will make your sausage a lot tastier and add some much needed fat to the turkey meat

1 TB fennel seeds

1 TB coriander seeds

1 TB black pepper seeds

1 TB red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 TB freshly chopped sage

1 TB freshly chopped rosemary

1/2 cup red wine

Toss all the ingredients in a bowl and season with salt. Pass through a meat grinder (or chop up in your food processor) until it is the texture of ground meat. Make sure all your ingredients are ice cold. If using a meat grinder, grind the meat into a bowl set in ice. Mix in the 1/2 cup of red wine until the meat becomes somewhat sticky. Make a small patty and cook to taste the seasoning. Adjust accordingly and keep the sausage in the fridge.

Cook the sausage in a pan over medium heat until it turns golden brown and is cooked through. Let cool, before stuffing inside the breast.

For the brine (from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home):

3 lemons, halved

6 bay leaves

2 oz flat leaf parsely

1 oz thyme

1/4 cup clover honey

1 head garlic, halved

1/4 cup black peppercorns, whole

5 oz  kosher salt

1 gallons water

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from heat and cool completely before using.

Put the turkey breasts in the brine for 12 hours (not longer or the meat will get overly mushy and too salty). Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse to get all the spices off. Pat the turkey with paper towels until it is completely dry.

Put on a plate and leave in the fridge, uncovered for another 12 hours, so the skin dries out and will become extra crisp when you roast it.

To Assemble:

The morning of the big day, I got the breast and sausage meat out. I cut the breast in half, lengthwise and opened it like a book. Cover it in plastic wrap and use a meat mallet and pound out the meat to make it even. Stuff 1/2 the sausage mixture into 1 breast, and use the rest on the other breast. Season the inside with salt and pepper. Roll the breast over the sausage and pull the skin so it covers the entire top of the roast.

Smear some room temperature butter (about 2 tablespoons) over the breast, and season with salt, pepper, and a few leaves of freshly chopped sage. Tie it up with some string to keep its shape. Let the roulade sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes so it roasts evenly.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cook the turkey for about 30 minutes until it is starting to brown, and then lower the heat to 375, and cook until the internal temperature of the turkey is at 155, about 45 minutes more. Once the turkey is cooked, remove it to a cutting board and let it rest for 20 minutes. Slice and enjoy!

Cheers,

Vivek

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