Friday, September 25, 2009

Craziness, Redux

I last posted about the semi-lunacy of taking in bushels and bushels of local produce and lots of local meats and in under 48 hours, concocting a menu using all those ingredients and serving it to 60+ people (see "Craziness"). It's not really as crazy an endeavor as it sounds: it is in larger scale what we do every day here at the restaurant—react to the fresh, local products coming in the door to create the dinner menu for the day.

Before I get started, I have to give a big thanks to the ladies from Preserve Frederick for all their help in coordinating logistics: amazing job! And both the front of the house crew and back of the house crew did fantastic jobs, letting me move from the kitchen to the dining room at will and greet and mingle with our guests. Great job everyone! Service was amazingly smooth!

To recap, last evening we held a sold-out farm-to-table dinner for the benefit of Preserve Frederick in conjunction with the Piedmont Environmental Council. The net proceeds will go to Preserve Frederick for the publication of next year's edition of the Buy Fresh-Buy Local guide, that connects local producers and consumers of agricultural products.

From the restaurant perspective, I've been leading the fresh-local parade for the past seven years and I am happy to have been able to help raise funds to publish a guide that might help our local producers connect with other restaurants and the general public. Who knows? Maybe we can convince other restaurants to keep their money here in our local economy.

After triaging all the food that came in the door, the cooks and I started sketching out ideas for using the products and dealing with issues such as feeding 60+ people with 7 pounds of pork. Here's the final menu that we ended up with after receiving the final donations at around 2:30pm before the dinner:

Gazpacho with Crispy Squash Cake

Gratin of Natural Chicken in Mustard Sauce

Thai Beef Salad

Puerco con Mojo on Corn Cake with Tomato, Tomatillo, and Groundcherry Salsa

Irish Stew with Butternut Squash Purée

White Chocolate, Pecan, and Roasted Apple Bread Pudding with Crème Anglaise

Gazpacho with Crispy Squash Cake. We made a fairly traditional tomato gazpacho with lots of diced vegetables for garnish, including yellow, red and green peppers, beets, and corn. If the beets are very young and sweet, you can use a lot; if they are very earthy, they will dominate. These were very earthy so we had to use restraint. We flavored the soup with lots of sherry vinegar and a healthy dose of Tabasco.

With the soup, we served one of our famous squash cakes: yellow squash grated and cooked for three hours in heavy cream with garlic and basil and bound with pecorino romano and bread crumbs, chilled, formed into cakes, and fried.

Gratin of Natural Chicken in Mustard Sauce. Needing to feed 60 people from 5 chickens (albeit huge ones), we had to take the chicken off the bone and stretch it. We poached the huge Corn Rock Cross chickens; poached a traditional mirepoix of leeks, carrots, and celery in the chicken stock to further flavor it; then reduced the stock with heavy cream and added a final liaison of Dijon mustard. After mixing the chicken, vegetables, and sauce, we baked it under an herbed breadcrumb crust. This is one of the key tricks of the professional kitchen: cook everything separately to the point where it is perfectly cooked and then combine all the ingredients. I wouldn't expect home cooks to do this (and dirty that many pans) but this is how we get our chicken perfectly tender and our vegetables just done.

Thai Beef Salad. What to do with chuck and sirloin steaks and how to stretch a small amount for a crowd? With chuck, you either have to cook it a little or a lot. We went for a little, first marinating the beef in a touch of the salad dressing, then grilling it to medium rare, chilling it, then slicing it and removing the nasty bits. This we mixed with a julienne of carrots, sliced green onions, mounds of Thai basil, cilantro, a few cherry tomatoes and lots of dressing. The dressing is lime juice, brown sugar, kaffir lime, fish sauce, and local first-pressing canola oil. We served this over some impeccable baby greens that were picked just before the dinner. Kaffir lime is not typical in this salad, but I have a lot on hand that I need to use.

Puerco con Mojo on Corn Cake with Tomato, Tomatillo, and Groundcherry Salsa. We had only 7 pounds of shoulder, bone-in at that, to feed a crowd, so we knew we were going to braise the pork and pull it. We braised the pork in a classic Cuban mojo of sour orange juice, cilantro, oregano, garlic, and cumin, then shredded it and mixed it with a Cuban-style arroz verde (green rice) and a salsa of cherry tomatoes, peppers, local tomatillos, and local groundcherries.

We shaved a lot of fresh corn, just picked in the afternoon, mixed it with local poblanos (these were way spicy!), garlic, and Virginia cornmeal from which we made delicious little pancakes on which to serve the pork.

Irish Stew with Butternut Squash Purée. I cubed four legs of lamb and stewed them in Petit Verdot from Jefferson Cellars as the base for this "stew." It was non-traditional in that while I did stew the lamb, I sautéed the accompanying carrots, celery, and onions, and roasted local Yukon Gold and Kennebec potatoes with rosemary. After straining and reducing the lamb stock, I bound it with a classic beurre manié, and mixed it into the meat and vegetables just before service.

For the butternut purée we peeled, cubed, and roasted the first butternut squash of the season. We then mashed them and seasoned with a touch of butter, nutmeg, salt, and white pepper. Roasting small cubes of squash to the point of slight caramelization yields a depth of flavor that you cannot get by other means.

White Chocolate, Pecan, and Roasted Apple Bread Pudding with Crème Anglaise. I think that everyone who ate this bread pudding will all agree that it was the best that I have ever made; it was pure money! The key is using premium products: our fantastic baguettes, local Jonagold and Empire apples roasted with cinnamon and local honey, white chocolate, toasted pecan halves, a little (about two gallons) 40+% heavy cream, a couple vanilla beans, and dozens of local Rhode Island Red eggs. Besides using the best quality ingredients possible, the other trick with bread pudding is knowing when to take it out of the oven. If you let it set up totally in the oven, it's overcooked, still good, but not money!

Thanks to the following farmers for their kind support of this event:

Echo Ridge Farm
Freight Station Farmers Market
Hardin Natural Chicken
Hedgebrook Farm
Linda's Mercantile
Marker-Miller Orchards
North Branch Farm
Richard's Fruit Market
Virginia Lamb


  1. Very enjoyable post. Fun to read all the details. :)

  2. Sounds fabulous, Ed! Even though we have wonderful cuisine here in NOLA, I still miss OBW :)

  3. Lisa, I miss you too. I learned a lot of my chops in NOLA, a city near and dear to my heart.