September 18, 2012

Why I Never Say Never...

This past weekend was pretty freaking awesome, if I do say so myself. Mike and I received invitations to the James Beard Foundation Farm to Table to Classroom event being thrown by our Local Marriott and the University of North Alabama to raise money for scholarships for culinary students at the University. I was extremely excited when I was offered two tickets to go to this event, for two reasons. First, I've always wanted to go to a course oriented dinner, especially one like this that had five courses and was paired with wine. Second, the tickets were given to us. One of the sales guys responsible for this client at my company gave me his tickets. I designed the promotional pieces and the menu for this event. I was really happy to get to go, after lusting over the menu for weeks. It also helped Mike and I stick to our budget, free tickets meant $130 / each wasn't sucked out of our bank accounts.

Mike and I are really obsessed with Anthony Bourdain and his show No Reservations. I'm also sort of obsessed with Andrew Zimmern as well. I know, I know they both eat strange things, but that totally appeals to me. OK, maybe you won't catch me eating bull fries anytime soon, I never say never.

I always swore years ago that I would NEVER eat Lamb. That I don't eat baby animals. That all changed around Valentine's Day this year when for the first time with food, I tossed caution to the wind and tried a bite of Mike's lamb shank, and really, really liked it.

I had prepared myself for the menu for this 5 Course Event. I reminded myself to keep an open mind and to try everything.

The night was great - the event was held under a huge white tent. The tables were decorated with burlap, jars of preserved vegetables, and small wild flower arrangements with rosemary and chili peppers. Everything was lit by candles and one large chandelier covered with vines. It was beautiful. {The picture doesn't do it justice}.
via Mike's Instagram
Unfortunately, the sun set quickly making it difficult to get more pictures, which is a shame, but I will do my best to describe the courses as I remember them.

The Menu

Designed by me. Yes, you did just hear me toot my own horn!
What got me the most excited about this event was that all of the food was farmed, raised, and grown locally here in The Shoals. UNA Cullinary students were directed by the chefs from the 360 Grille at the Marriott here locally. The chefs and students spent a week perfecting their dishes, and pairing them with the perfect wines. When we arrived we notices a few familiar faces over at the tables representing local farms. Our favorite is the couple who grow hydroponic vegetables and fruit. It's some of the best produce in town. They also sat at our table, and I was excited to chat with them over a meal, not just over a counter while purchasing their goods.

Mike was most worried about not liking two things, the Smoked Catfish (here in the South most men like it fried) and he was worried about getting sick trying the Pickled Quail Eggs. He loved both, and even said he thought the Smoked Catfish was his favorite. This was also the first time that Mike had tried Pimento Cheese. Yes, you read that right. Southern boy, boy and raised, with a family that has this cheese regularly on special occasions. I tried it before him. To be fair, this Pimento Cheese knocked the pants off any Pimento Cheese I've ever eaten. Heavy on the onion and the garlic, just like I like it.

Rabbit Sausage - this is why I never say never #1. I really thought I'd never eat Rabbit. I never had a desire to try it, but when in Rome, right? It was tasty. Not gamey at all which was nice. It was served on a cracker with some infused oil and it was really delicious.

Pickled Quail Egg - Again, not sure why I thought this might taste gamey but it didn't. It was literally like a small, fresh, hard boiled egg, but a bit sweet. It was pickled in beet juice. I think I may have to give beets another try (something I've hated since childhood, true story - my mother told me they tasted like candy, so I took a HUGE bite and nearly vomited all over the table. They did NOT taste like candy!)

Crispy Chicken Liver & Local Mushroom Duxelle - Tasty. Again, never had a desire to try chicken liver. It's a huge dish around here. Deep fried chicken livers. No thanks, but I tried it and it was tasty. The Mushroom Duxelle was pretty darn good too. These were easy to eat, served in a spoon, one shot and done.

The Cocktails were great and simple. We had the choice between a light, crisp Prosecco which I really didn't think I'd like, and I loved. And something called a Southern Manhattan which was right up Mike's alley. We sampled both and enjoyed the passed hors d'oeuvres.

Country Style Pork Pate, Pork Rind, Cippolini & Tomato Raisin Panzanella
Paired with a Riesling from Germany
I enjoyed this dish. I wasn't sure what to expect with Pate. I watch a lot of Food Network and Travel Channel shows about food but rarely paid attention when it came to Pate. I was honestly expecting something "cat food like" in texture. This instead was more like meatloaf or sausage, but tender. I honestly can tell you that I've never been a fan of Pork Rinds, but the way it was used was perfect for this course. They had some light greens and used the rind as garnish. It gave this a nice crunch. The tomato raisins were genius!

WINE: I'm not a fan of Riesling, but it was great with this dish, and that's what's important with a pairing, right?

Jack O' Lantern Farms {hydroponic farmers} Vegetable Salad, Bell Chevre Goat Cheese Vinaigrette, with Red Beet Gastrique
Paired with a Chardonnay from California
For a salad this was the bees knees. My favorite bit to this salad were the small cucumbers. They appeared like green plum tomatoes on one side, and tiny watermelons on the other. When I asked the owners of the farm what they were they informed me they were gerkin cucumbers. Adorable, tart and really really good. I know odd thing to fixate on but I had NEVER seen that before. And the beet gastrique, I wanted to lick the plate clean! But I didn't.

WINE: Not a huge fan of Chardonnay either I'm more of a Pinot G, or a very dry crisp white girl. But it was tasty.

Beef Duo - Seared Beef Heart and Braised Tongue Brunswick Stew with Sweet Corn and Field Peas.
Paired with Cabernet Sauvignon from California
I think this was my favorite course of the night. Yes you read that right. tongue and heart, my favorite. I never in a million years thought I'd ever, ever eat this. And here I was... on my second organ of the night (remember the liver earlier) and eating something that could taste me back. It's crazy. I wasn't a huge fan of the texture of the tongue, but the flavor of the stew was unbelievable. Mike and I both agreed, at the same time it totally reminded us of a beef, vegetable stew our mother's had made us when we were kids. It made me miss my mom, and I savored it that much more. The part that made eating the heart easier was that it was chopped up into pieces the same size as the peas and corn. It probably also helped that the lights were dim, but given the chance I'd try it again.

WINE: I love reds and Cab Sauv is my 2nd favorite red. Delicious.

Lamb Crepinette, Shiitake locally grown with stewed local tomatoes, lamb jus and frisee salad
Paired with Zinfandel from California
This was my second favorite meal. It sort of reminded me of a crab cake the way the lamb was shredded and presented. I really also liked that the stewed tomatoes were cherry tomatoes, still on the vine.

We were sitting with the woman who owned the farm that raised the lamb, and the vegetables so it was fun to hear her stories of moving here from California and being happier here in our small town that she ever had been in her entire life.

WINE: Zinfandel is my favorite red wine. It's rather full bodied, and seems thick but I love it. This sample was amazing.

Butternut Squash Tart Tatin, Apple Chutney, Spiced Honey Caramel with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
Paired with Rheinhessen from Germany
This dessert was absolutely amazing!!! The Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta made my knees buckle. I was so stuffed at this point I'm shocked I ate it all but I couldn't let it go to waste!

WINE: Too sweet, like sickly sweet - I get that it was a dessert wine but I wasn't a fan. At all.

I want to do this again. I loved having the different courses and the different wines. Mike and I don't get to do this often and it was a blast. As two budding foodies at heart, I really feel like this expanded our tastebuds and minds. I'm really looking forward to the next event. Fingers crossed they will have another one next year.

In the end, the event, and everyone involved raised over $10,000 for the UNA Culinary Scholarship fund. It was moving to see all these kids doing something they were passionate about, and getting a helping hand in the process.
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{Jessica} said...

Oh my goodness that food all sounds so delish! And, how fun that you go to go since you designed the menu! Love it, by the way - you did a great job:) The tables looked gorgeous - I can imagine that they were even prettier once it got a little darker!

G said...

I absolutely loooovvvve reading about tasting menus like this. More, please!!!

Carolyn said...

What a cool idea! Sounds super yummy!!

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