THE YEAR IN EATS (AND A RECIPE)

In the spirit of “The Best Of” week as we move towards New Year’s Eve, I had to recap some of the best meals of my year – and they were plenty (despite my detox).

2011 started with a trip to Blackberry Farm’s Taste of the South with an amazing array of chefs and artisans.  The weekend is somewhat of a blur – perhaps because of all the wine tasting with Angie Mosier, and Charles and Kristie Abney.  I remember a biodynamic wine that was a glowing, beautiful orange color. (Charles and Kristie – if you are reading, can you remind me of the name of this wine? I would love to share it with others!)

Pardis Stitt will not let you leave her house, restaurant, or presence without a “to-go” box. And I know this may come as a surprise, but one of the best meal moments of my year was eating freshly cooked homemade chips and charred onion dip from Bottega in my car, on my way home to North Alabama. The recipe for this deliciousness can be found on page 23 of Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair with Italian Food. I have not been able to replicate the perfection of that afternoon in my own kitchen – must have been the “Pardis Love” that made the difference.

I would be remiss in not mentioning our Heath Ceramics collaboration – as many chefs will agree, everything tastes better on Heath. As I stacked clean plates last night, I found myself letting out a little sigh.  It makes me happy to have Heath in my kitchen.

Kristy Bevis whips up incredible meals for our Studio Weekend Workshops. Though I’m not usually a pork eater, her Spicy Pork makes my list this year. There was something about the mix of lemon, rosemary, and garlic with spicy apple chutney that won me over. Plus, she sources all of her primary ingredients from within a 20 mile radius of our studio. (See Kristy’s recipe and pork suggestions below.)

The Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium might have been one of the highlights of the last decade.  I just kept saying, “I can’t believe that it took me so long to come.”  At the end of the weekend, I told our friends John T. Edge and Angie Mosier that as long as I am breathing, I shall never miss another one. To begin to write of the food would be just too much for my mind.  Let me say to the world, “Please join the Southern Foodways Alliance.” If they have an event in your general vicinity, please go. If you can sit next to one of its members at any meal, jump to it… this is the real deal.

I was lucky enough to share a meal with Nathalie Jordi (can’t wait for her book) and Brett Anderson at Patois in New Orleans. While everything was delicious, Nathalie ordered (and we all devoured) the best Moules Frites that I have ever eaten in my life –the classic set up, smothered with Creole spice.  I am really not sure what tasted better – the actual Moules or the bread dipped in the sauce. The dinner and the company were delicious. If you are in the vicinity of New Orleans, don’t miss this treat.

And I am proud to say that some of the best eats of the year were served at my very own table.  A bumper crop of kale in the spring, a beautiful summer garden, and our local farmer’s market have all contributed to some really good meals in my oversized cast iron Lodge pans.  As Linton Hopkins said at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, “Any chef worth his s*** cooks in black.”

Finally, the year would not be a complete year without a serving (or seven) of the Blackened Tuna Dip from Bud & Alley’s in Seaside, Florida (thank you Tommy and Ann), served on the back of a pick-up truck in Seale, Alabama, lunch at the Edible Schoolyard during our yearly one-day workshop in Berkeley, and my son Zach’s pork extravaganza (Green Eggs and Ham) – cooked up in my own kitchen and in honor of our friend John T. Edge.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my list of the best eats in 2011. Hope to share a table with you in 2012. xoNatalie

Kristy Bevis’ notes on pork (and a recipe):

I’ve really enjoyed working with Alabama Chanin throughout the year–I’m so glad to hear the pork was a highlight! I based it around a recipe in Ad Hoc at Home. The key is in the brine and in basting it in garlic butter before roasting. Also, have a meat thermometer handy and be careful not to overcook.

PORK BRINE

1/4 cup honey
12 bay leaves
3 rosemary springs
1/2 bunch thyme
1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup garlic cloves, crushed, skin left on
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 cup kosher salt
8 cups water
Combine all ingredients in a pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, remove from heat, cool completely, then chill.

PORK LOIN

4-pound pork loin (ask the butcher to remove the loin from the bone)
Pork brine (cold)
Canola oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, smashed, skin left on
6 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
8 slices of lemon

Place the loin in a large container with the pork brine. Refrigerate for two hours. Remove the pork and rinse under cold water. Discard the brine. Let the loin sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat some canola oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Season the loin with salt and pepper and sear until golden brown on all sides. Add the butter, garlic, thyme, rosemary, and lemon. Cook for two minutes, using a spoon to continuously baste the pork.
Transfer the loin to a roasting pan. Overlap with lemons and top with butter, garlic, thyme, and rosemary. Roast until internal temperature is 135 degrees, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes.  Slice the pork into 1/2 inch slices. Arrange on a serving platter and garnish with the garlic, rosemary, and lemons.

For the lunch, I served the pork loin with spiced apple chutney (recipe below), accompanied mashed sweet potatoes, braised collard greens, an autumn salad, and bread pudding in a jar. The salad was mixed greens from the local farmers’ market, butternut squash roasted with garam masala, spiced pecans (recipe in Southern Table), dried cranberries, and a honey-balsamic vinaigrette.

SPICED APPLE CHUTNEY

6 apples, peeled, cored, and diced (I used a variety of different kinds from the farmer’s market)
4 medium yellow onions, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 sugar
2 cups Martinelli’s apple juice
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
2 thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Dash cayenne pepper

Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cook down for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours until most of the liquid has evaporated. Allow to cool completely and refrigerate for 1 day before serving.

 

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