Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Casserole Story

As any cornbread lover can tell you, South Pittsburg, Tennessee is the location of the National Cornbread Festival. It also happens to be the home of the finest cast-iron cookware in the world, produced by the Lodge family. Joseph Lodge began making cast iron in 1896, in this little town named for its greater industrial counterpart in Pennsylvania. Some 115 years later, his family continues to make products that are venerated in the cooking world and beloved by Chef Linton Hopkins. So much so that he has declared this season “A Winter of Casseroles” at Holeman & Finch Public House.

For Chef, finding a good cooking vessel is as exhilarating as finding good greens or grass-fed beef. He relishes the character that emerges when vegetables and proteins are cooked in unique, and traditional devices. Just as a discerning wine palette will notice the subtle differences in terroir between Napa and Sonoma, dedicated foodies can recognize if something’s been cooked in a clay pot or in a cast-iron skillet.

The right pan deserves the same kind of quest and care as sourcing exquisite sea salt or just-ripe fruit for sorbet. Because Chef feels so strongly about Lodge cookware, he sees no reason to confine it to the kitchen. Y’all can enjoy these casseroles in the very dishes in which they’re cooked.

This winter greens casserole is an homage to Virginia Willis, who was recently guest-of-honor at a Restaurant Eugene Author Dinner with her newest book, Basic to Brilliant Y'all. Using butternut squash from Burge Plantation and greens from Truly Living Well, Chef has conjured a dish that is sure to please on a chilly December night. What brings the whole dish together, however, is a b├ęchamel, whose star ingredient is a ham hock from Benton’s Hams. Which just so happens to be in Tennessee. There’s no need for you to travel far, however. There’s a Lodge casserole dish at the Public House with your name on it every night. And, in case you would like to try this at home:

Winter Greens Casserole

1 medium butternut squash
1 lb. hearty winter greens (collards, mustards, turnips, etc.), diced
1 gallon water

For b├ęchamel:
2 tbsp. butter
2 cups milk
¾ cup buttermilk
2 tbsp. flour
1 small shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ham hock
1 bunch thyme in sachet
2 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 nutmeg
For crumble:
½ cup butter
½ cup crushed crackers

1) In a 2 quart sauce pot slowly heat the butter. Once it begins to foam, add garlic and shallot, place on a medium-low heat and sweat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add flour and stir until combined. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently to cook off raw flour flavor.
2) Add milk, whisking to mix into roux. Add hock, thyme sachet, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Simmer for 20 minutes. Strain into a mixing bowl and reserve the hock.
3) Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seed. Place cut side down on an oiled sheet tray and roast at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until tender throughout. Medium dice once cooled.
4) Bring water to a rolling boil. Add 1 cup salt. Blanch greens until tender, about 30 seconds-1 minute. Drain and shock in ice water. Squeeze out all excess moisture.
5) Combine all preparations and buttermilk in mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Put in a casserole dish and top with buttered cracker.
6) Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until top is evenly golden brown.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Raising Cane

Someone once sang that he got no kicks from champagne. We don’t know what that guy was talking about. Here at Holeman & Finch Public House, we get a lot of kicks from champagne, and we share them with you.

In his desire to craft a cocktail that could pay homage to both the classic Champagne Cocktail, and the foodways of the South, Greg Best was visited by three spirits; namely, Wathen’s Kentucky Bourbon, Regan’s #6 Orange Bitters and Jacques Pelvas Brut.   From this trinity, we have the genesis of a fine drink.  And Best saw that it was good and he named it Copper & Cane.  The title refers to the copper-pot stills used to distill the whiskey, and to the tall canes of grass which when pressed provide us sorghum syrup (otherwise known as the sweet nectar of the southern gods).  
Great care and creativity go into every cocktail we make.  This starts with each ingredient.  There’s a lineage of respect, dedication, patience and preservation behind every bottle from which we pour.  Wathen’s Single Barrel Bourbon is produced by Charles Wathen Medley, from a recipe that’s been passed down through eight generations of Wathen and Medley family members. That’s 250 years of distilling expertise—and you can taste it in every drop.  Before Wathen’s arrives at our bar, it has gone through an exhaustive process that includes selecting and milling only the finest grains, and the addition of the Medley family yeast to spur the fermentation process. All ingredients are added to the spring water filtered through Kentucky limestone before undergoing the 100% copper doubling. Add to this elixir a little fresh lemon juice, wicked orange bitters, a dash of sorghum syrup, a spot of brut and a pinch of freshly shaved nutmeg, and you’ve got the ultimate holiday sip-fest. The Copper & Cane represents a fine mix of regional wonders and cosmopolitan tradition, makes for good company before a meal and will warm up any cold fall or winter’s night.
“I need more whiskey in my whiskey.” The memorable line from the Felice Brothers tune, is a lyric we can definitely get behind, but sometimes its fun to put champagne in your whiskey.  Stop by the Public House tonight to experience a champagne whiskey cocktail at its finest.  Those of you who would rather to play along at home can make a stop at H&F Bottle Shop to pick up a Copper & Cane cocktail kit—it has everything you need to make this potent potable.

Mea Coppa, Tua Coppa!

The statement on the homepage of the EcoFriendly Foods website could just as easily be a Holeman & Finch Public House motto: “Eating EcoFriendly Foods is a celebration of the shared meal.” Chances are you’ve already joined us for such celebrations.  We are proud to serve a number of eco-friendly foods, including products from Bev Eggleston’s farm in Moneta, Virginia. 

Eggleston, whose pastures sit in the Blue Ridge not too far from the historic farmlands that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, has become an agricultural celebrity due to his principles and practices when it comes to growing and cultivating food. An embodiment of Slow Food, he believes that farming should contribute to the welfare of animals, workers and eaters alike. Whereas the Agribusiness Industrial Complex can process about 130 chickens in a minute, EcoFriendly Farms handles only 400 chickens per day.

Eggleston also raises sheep and pigs—or as Frank Bruni once put it, “outrageously fine swine.”  We enjoy a fine swine as much as a fine wine, like you probably do. Our Chef de Charcuterie, James Ellington, is particularly jazzed about the swine that comes from EcoFriendly Farms. He is using it for the Coppa currently on the menu.  James notes that Coppa, a cut from the rear neck and shoulder region of the pig, is perfect for the season, particularly when cured in a marvelous mix of winter spices like cracked black pepper and cloves that add spice and warmth to each delicately thin slice.

This unsmoked cut of meat has been particularly popular in Italy for centuries, where it is sold as "coppa fresca" in most cases, and tastes best when braised or roasted. Coppa is, essentially, an even mix of meat and fat, adding pronounced flavor to stews and soups, or as the star of a small plate with sides. At Holeman & Finch, it is being served with tempura-fried pickled ramps, which are temptingly positioned on a small bed of griddled endive.

We look forward to sharing this meal with you, and suspect that it will become an instant favorite.

If you'd like to make some ramps at home, see the recipe below:

Tempura-Fried Pickled Ramps

4 ramp bulbs, root end removed
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup corn starch
½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup dredge

1)      Combine water, peppercorns, vinegar, and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Pour over ramp bulbs, making sure they are completely submerged. Refrigerate in sealed container for 2 weeks.
2)      Remove ramps from the pickling liquid. Separate bulbs into several hollow, bell-shaped layers.
3)      Drop ramps into dredge and toss to coat thoroughly. Remove and shake off any excess dredge.
4)      Dip into batter, then add to fryer or pan of frying liquid. Fry until golden brown, approx. 3 minutes, remove to let cool. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to serve.