Beast Feast 2014

Never in my life have I eaten duck and goat in the same day… until yesterday.

Beast Feast 2014 was held on the lawn of Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown and featured local chefs and butchers slaving over open fires since the wee hours of the morning to cook whole goats, pigs, ducks, chickens and sides of beef.  They fixed some delicious side dishes too.  There was also lots of local beer, wine and cider to sample.  Oh and a country/bluegrass band.  And a chance to tour Scotchtown.  And if you paid a bit more for a VIP wristband, plenty of cocktails mixed and served by local bartenders and Rappahannock oysters to enjoy.

The slow-cooked meats were all delicious.  Long, slow cooking over open fires is a technique that goes way back, probably into prehistory, and there’s something primal (and yummy) about seeing and smelling the different animals being cooked.  The outside skin crisps up or chars, and the meat inside is left to roast in its own fat.  The duck, especially, was amazingly juicy.  The sides were veggie-heavy and plentiful.  The ambience – hay bales for seating and constant cornhole games – was laid back but what I like to call “country elegant” (think Garden and Gun magazine).  Lots of girls in dresses and cowboy boots.

Here are some pics.  Enjoy!

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Cooking

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Serving – mmm… goat!

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Goat, beef, farro salad, sweet potatoes

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Pork two ways, beans, Caprese-type salad

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Duck breast, beet salad, sweet potatoes, gravy

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Local wines and ciders

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Visited the kitchen and found out that Scotchtown offers hearth cooking classes for $25 a person.  I totally want to do this for my birthday at the end of October.  Who’s with me?

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Everyone could use a bit more meat juice.

RVA Restaurant Review – Graffiato

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to eat at new Richmond restaurant Graffiato, from acclaimed Top Chef All-Stars Runner-Up Mike Isabella.  After the success of Graffiato DC and on the heels of a three-year stint at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya and Top Chef fame, Isabella opened Graffiato Richmond on Sept. 10, and the restaurant has served a packed house nearly every night since.  Located in the space formerly occupied by Popkin Tavern on Broad Street in downtown, the space is modern industrial with an open, airy feel.

Our reservation was for 7:30, and it took the hostesses a few minutes to get our table ready, but they were super nice and apologetic about the wait.  No worries – rumor had it that even people with a reservation had had to wait upwards of 45 minutes during opening week, so our ten minute or so wait was no big deal.

The beverage list was full of innovative cocktails, like a jazzed-up Pisco Sour and an “RVA Gin and Tonic” made with local gin.  Interesting wine choices make an appearance on the wine list, which is heavy on Greek and Italian wines (to go with the pizza and Mediterranean-influenced fare).  Virginia vintages are also well-represented.  The beer selections are a local beer acolyte’s dream:  Hardywood, Center of the Universe, Strangeways, Lickinghole Creek, Ardent Craft and Devil’s Backbone are all offered, plus more from Virginia, DC and Denver.  I had the “Put Me in Your Mix”:  bourbon, amaro, orange, honey and hefeweizen.  It was served with a long, thin shard of ice and a lemon slice, and was the perfect start to my Graffiato adventure.

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Following the trend in fine dining restaurants, portions are small plates and intended for sharing.  Our group was large enough that each of us ordered a few things and we all got to try different dishes throughout our meal.  For starters, we had the broccolini with red pepper relish, walnuts and feta and the roasted cauliflower with pecorino, mint and red onion.  Both were fresh and flavorful, with an innovative focus on vegetables rather than the bread or fried appetizers typical of most Italian menus.

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We also tried the Cheese & Cure tray, which is served on a slab of slate with your choice of three or five cheeses and meats.  Our group had the Bijou, a goat cheese from Vermont, the Bianco Sardo, a sheep’s milk cheese from Italy and the Italian Coppa, tender cured pork shoulder sliced thin.  Smears of spicy mustard and a sweet apricot glaze rounded out the plate.

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The menu boasted a bunch of gourmet wood-fired pizzas, and we tried the Greco Roman:  black figs, goat cheese and tasso; the Jersey Shore:  fried calamari, tomato, provolone and cherry pepper aioli; and the White House:  mozzarella, taleggio, ricotta, prosciutto and black pepper honey.  All three were phenomenal – I can’t even pick a favorite.  The flavor combinations were creative, yet familiar.  The crusts were baked perfectly.  My only – minor – gripe was that the prosciutto on the White House pizza wasn’t quite as crispy-looking (or tasting) or as caramelized as the picture on the website.  But it still tasted awesome.

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There was a small mixup with our order of the hand cut spaghetti (with olive oil-poached cherry tomatoes and Thai basil), which resulted in it coming out last, but it was a delicious ending to our meal.  The Thai basil is something I never would have thought to put with an Italian pasta dish, but it worked perfectly.  These kinds of innovative tweaks to Mediterranean comfort food are the hallmark of Graffiato’s.  Mike Isabella’s creative and well-executed menu puts the new Richmond location at the forefront of the city’s dining scene.

The verdict – 8.5 of 10 stars

Come on out to Beast Feast 2014

So in case you haven’t heard, on Sunday, September 28, some of Richmond’s best chefs and bartenders will be assembling at Historic Scotchtown in Hanover County to cook local meats and veggies over an open fire, and to share drinks, local wines and beers with what I’m sure will be an appreciative crowd.  At Beast Feast 2014, Belmont Butchery celebrates its eighth year (and is selling tickets for the event at the shop), and chefs from Rogue Gentleman, Aziza on Main, The Magpie, Julep’s, The Whole Ox Butchery of The Plains and even the Governor’s Mansion and the Federal Reserve Bank will be on hand to cook up a one-of-a-kind meal.  Prepare yourself for whole goats, pigs and possibly more cooked to perfection in Patrick Henry’s backyards, with proceeds from the event going to support upkeep and educational programs at Scotchtown.

If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, you might want to do so sooner rather than later.  Get them here.  At $50 for general admission and $80 for VIP early access, they just may sell out.  If you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities, visit http://preservationvirginia.org/docs/sponsorship.pdf.  Those interested in volunteering can email london.c.ray@gmail.com for more information.

I, for one, can’t wait to see what the chefs and bartenders have in store!

Project “Family Food History Thanksgiving”

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a ~wee~ bit obsessed with genealogy and researching my family history.  With some of the discoveries I’ve made over the past few years, I’ve become more and more interested in learning about the food cultures of the places my ancestors came from.  To that end, I’ve decided to focus my research and cooking efforts on my family’s Thanksgiving gathering to highlight some of these foods.  

From what I’ve been able to uncover, my mom’s family (the side we see in a big gathering on Thanksgiving Day every year), is mostly English (both Saxon and Norman – yes, I’ve been able to go back that far), German and Scottish, with some Welsh, Dutch and French.  So my focus will be on English, German and Scottish food history for Thanksgiving.

Our German ancestors come from Berlin, Rheinland and Hessen, Germany, so I’ve delved into some of the dishes from those regions:

From Berlin – Kartoffelsuppe (potato soup), Hoppelpoppel (a mix of leftover meat, scrambled eggs, onions and potatoes), Eisbein (pork knuckle), Kasseler Rippchen (smoked, brined pork chops), Konigsberger Klopse (dumplings of beef and capers), Schnitzel Hostein (schnitzel topped with fried egg, onions and capers – meat can be veal, pork, turkey or chicken), Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), Berliner Pfannkuchen (jam or cream donut), Armer Ritter (German version of French toast), Rote Grutze (fresh red fruits with grits and fruit juice), Leberwurst (liverwurst), Bulette (flat pork meatball) and Berliner Weisse (beer). 

From Rheinland – Rheinischer Sauerbraten (sausage), Reibekuchen (potato pancakes), Himmel und Erde (potatoes, applesauce and bacon, accompanies blutwurst/blood sausage), Sauerkraut, Grunkohl (kale), Spekulatius (spice cookie), Zweibelkuchen (savory sheet cake topped with onions, cream or sour cream, eggs and bacon), Kreppel (donuts similar to the Berliner above), Schwarzbrot (dark bread), Ahr, Mittelrhein and Mosel wines and Rheinland beer.

From Hessen – Kassler Rippchen, Zweibelkuchen, Grune Sose (cold herb sauce served with boiled or baked potatoes and hard-boiled eggs), Reibelkuchen with applesauce, Potatoes, Asparagus, Sauerkraut, Frankfurter Kranz (cake filled with buttercream and marmalade, frosted with buttercream and decorated with pralines or almonds and candied cherries), Zwetschgenkuchen (crumb cake with plums and apples), Kreppel, Bethmannchen (small round cookies made of marzipan and egg whites and decorated with almond halves), Wasserweck (bread roll made of wheat flour), Blutwurst (blood sausage), Frankfurter Wurstchen (long, thin, lightly-smoked pork sausage), Handkase (sour curd cheese), Handkase mit Musik (marinated Handkase), Kochkase (sour curd cheese), Apple wine, Riesling wine

For my purposes of serving a crowd at a Thanksgiving day feast, I’m going to focus on recipes that won’t be too challenging to make and items that won’t gross out my family (I’m looking at you, Blutwurst!).  From my German ancestors’ foods, I’ll be making Berliner Pfannkuchen, Grunkohl with German sausage, Grune Sose with boiled potatoes, Spekulatius cookies and Wasserweck rolls, and I’ll be bringing along some Berliner Weisse (if I can find it) and Riesling wine.

Stay tuned for more on the foods I’ll be researching for my family’s English, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch and French lines.