Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pine Street Market Sausage Making Class – Atlanta

If you’ve spent any time at the farmer’s markets in and around Atlanta, you’ve now doubt noticed the stands for Pine Street Market. Opened in 2009, Pine Street Market offers a wide variety of fresh and cured meats not to mention jams, biscotti, pickles, and pilaf. Well Pine Street recently teamed up with The Cooks Warehouse to host a series of cooking classes about the construction and cooking of sausages. Being ever vigilant, Jennifer pounced on two of the last remaining tickets. Since she was more interested in the class on cooking sausage, that meant I was able to attend the class on making sausage.

Led by Rusty Bowers, the man behind Pine Street Market, the class included a brief overview of his operation and methods.

This is where Rusty and his team get to work. Everything is stainless steel or easily sanitized.

People were dying to know where Pine Street sourced their meat and that eventually led the conversation to bacon.
This is a full belly from Gum Creek Farms that needs a few more weeks of curing.

An industrial grade Hobart grinder, I’m not at all jealous of that.

The real highlight of the class was seeing Pine Street’s custom made aging room.
It’s essentially a walk in fridge that they custom modified.
Dangling, curing meats
Rusty was more than happy to answer any and all questions.
If you look behind the belly, you can see the hoofs of Pine Street’s first batch of prosciutto.
More salamis

After the short tour, Rusty moved on to equipment.
The two ends of the grinding spectrum, a standalone electric grinder and a hand cranked grinder. Notice the grinder parts soaking in a container of cleaning solution. It might be a little overkill for home use, but Pine Street is monitored by an FDA agent for two hours each day so they go the extra mile.

Each student was given a bowl of roughly cubed pork shoulder.

We were then told to pick three seasoning agents, a cup of salt, and a cup of water.
I went with black pepper, red pepper, and paprika.
The salt, black pepper, and red pepper were added to the meat.
Along with the paprika
and here is my batch after grinding

This is setup I used during the class.
It may be a little mundane to use the kitchen aid grinder attachment, but I learned a valuable lesson during the class. I always thought you were supposed to grind on a very low speed and as a result my blade was always clogged with fat. Apparently if you grind the meat at a medium speed (4 or 5), it yields far superior results

After everyone had ground their meat, each batch was put into the fridge and allowed to rest for a minute while every appliance was cleaned.
This gave Rusty the opportunity to discuss the finer points of sausage casings.

The next step was stuffing the casings with our freshly ground pork.
Here, Kyle, the operations manager at Pine Street, shows the class the stuffing process.
Making sure to let out any air bubbles
Pinch the casing once the sausage comes out
A little more
Making sure it’s filling the casing correctly
It’s beginning to take shape.
Kyle has years of practice with this process.
That’s about one link’s worth.
but there’s more to come.

Rusty was conducting the same demonstration on the other side of the shop.

While I was floundering around with the horrible kitchen aid stuffing attachment, Aaron had the right idea by taking advantage of a professional grade stuffer.

Overall the class was a great experience. Rusty and the rest of Pine Street Market were affable and excellent instructors. I’ll admit most of the hands-on section of the class wasn’t new to me, but I did walk away with a few valuable lessons. First was the correct speed when using the Kitchen Aid mixer and the second was to never buy the stuffer attachment for that mixer. Despite my instructor’s best efforts, I had nothing but frustration from air bubbles and tears in casings. I really should have followed Aaron’s lead and gone for the industrial solution, but I suppose I’ll save that for the next sausage class.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Leon's Full Service - Decatur

When I’m in Atlanta, I rarely take the time to pay Decatur a visit. I have nothing against the town; it’s just not that convenient. Of course all that changed when I heard the siren song of a sausage construction class at Pine Street Market. So, Aaron, Jennifer, and I piled into my car and made the drive across town. With only two tickets between the three of us, Aaron and I actually attended the class while Jennifer caught up on some work at a coffee shop. A few hours and a few links later, we met back up with Jennifer and set about deciding on dinner.

There may have been some initial hemming and hawing, maybe even a joke about going back to The Iberian Pig, but having found parking on Ponce, Leon’s Full Service was the answer. I’ve been meaning to eat at Leon’s for a while and now I finally had the chance, if we had the patience. Despite being 9:30 on a Wednesday night, Leon’s was packed. We briefly considered trying Cakes & Ale but cooler heads prevailed and we took a seat at the bar.

I’ll be honest, if there was one reason I voted to stay at Leon’s it was their late night menu. It was a fine looking menu, but there was one item in particular that really caught my eye. Near the bottom was poutine. I realize it’s a ridiculous reason, but I love poutine and it is damn near impossible to find a decent example this far south.

Before we had a chance to finish our drinks, our name was called and we were shown to our table. Even though I had my heart set on poutine, Jennifer and Aaron were more interested in Leon’s regular French fry offering, the pub frites
Reading through some of the Atlanta based blogs, people have written about just how good the fries are at Leon’s. Well, they weren’t lying. These fries were excellent; they were crispy, salty, and had just the right amount of fluffy texture inside.
For their sauces, they went with garlic aioli and goat cheese fondue. The garlic aioli was exceptional, very thick and very garlicky. I wasn’t as impressed with the goat cheese fondue. I liked the pungent, tangy flavor of the goat cheese but it was too thin for a good dipping sauce.

I can never resist the lure of a charcuterie plate.
With a slice of terrine, sopressata, mole salami, and mortadella, this plate offered a nice variety of cured meats.
When you wrap something in fat, it’s hard to go wrong and this terrine was no exception. With a very smooth texture, this terrine was all pork with just enough pistachio flavor.
The sopressata was a real standout. Fatty, but not greasy, it was a satisfying blend of pork, pepper, and spice.
I wasn’t quite sure to expect when I tasted the mole salami but each piece was a surprisingly pleasant mixture of dark, smoky flavors and the heavy taste of paprika.
I rarely see mortadella sliced this thinly but it works. I can never get enough of the smooth taste and texture of emulsified pork with the punch of black peppercorns.

As if the charcuterie plate wasn’t enough to satisfy our cured and fat laden cravings, I decided that we had to try the house rillette as well.
Covered with a layer of pork fat and topped with a little grain mustard, this rillette came with all it needed, a loaf of bread.
Actually this rillette was surprisingly dry and outside of the sealing layer, there wasn’t very much fat in the pot. On its own, it was a surprisingly bland, but mixed with the mustard seeds and peppercorns, the sweetness of the pork was much more forward. This is a simple rillette but perfectly passable if you don’t try it right after the mole salami.

While I was egging Aaron and Jennifer to try a few more of the various pork based delicacies, my order of poutine arrived.
It was a little anticlimactic, but once I accepted that there wouldn’t be any wild boar ragu involved, I was quite happy with the combination of Leon’s excellent fries, a beefy gravy, and big, gooey cheese curds.
The addition of the egg seemed unnecessary but once I broke the yolk, a whole separate gravy magically appeared. It’s a simple touch but a great idea.

Even though the menu was full of appetizing entrée choices, the description of grass-fed beef, Tillamook cheddar, catsup & mustard, bread and butter pickles, and iceberg lettuce was just too tempting.
Served with a side of brussels sprout hash, this burger looked the part.
The un-melted cheese was an odd touch.
but it was dripping with something
I asked for the burger medium rare and I received a juicy, but surprisingly underwhelming burger. While the burger was well seasoned, there wasn’t a big, beefy flavor or even the more subtle flavors of grass-fed beef, it was just there.
The brussels sprout hash was a different story. This side dish was crispy, crunchy, caramelized, and topped with a distinct, delicious vinegar flavor.

Even with an anticlimactic burger, I enjoyed what Leon’s Full Service had to offer. It’s a fairly expansive, ever evolving menu that seems to focus on high end bar snacks and with a special section for charcuterie, I can definitely get behind that. It beats the hell out of picking at the over-battered fish and chips or chicken strips that you’d find at most bars and at the very least, the fries made this a worthwhile visit. They really are as good as everyone says. The real question is would I come pay Leon’s another visit? That’s a tough nut to crack. If I’m in the neighborhood, sure, I’d be more than happy to grab a beer and wait in line, but would I make a special trip? I doubt it. If I’m in Atlanta and I want a Gastropub, I’ll go to Holeman & Finch. If I feel the need to have a beer and play bocce ball, I’ve got Ormsby’s, but the next time Pine Street Market offers a class, Leon’s Full Service will certainly be on my short list.

Leon’s Full Service Address & Information

Leon's Full Service on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nan Thai Fine Dining - Atlanta

It was already one in the afternoon but Jennifer’s meeting had ended early and she could now meet for lunch. I was somewhere between downtown and Georgia Tech and she was in Buckhead. Hoping to meet somewhere in the middle, she suggested Nan. After a few quick clicks on OpenTable, a reservation was made for two.

Although it’s been a few years since I last ate at Nan, things really haven’t changed inside. The interior is still spacious, elegant, and wonderfully appointed. Oddly enough, I think we sat at the exact same table as last time.

Looking through the menu, we immediately noticed a problem; we couldn’t decide on an appetizer. Sure it would have made much more sense to pick one appetizer per person and share, but it was much more fun to order Nan’s Tasting Tree.
Featuring almost every item in the appetizer section, it was the perfect solution.
Starting with the Kung Thod or stuffed shrimp, the shrimp may have been a little dry but the skin was crispy and well complimented by the tamarind sauce.
Pla Muk Thod, calamari with three chilis sauce was one of my favorites. Each piece was crunchy and coated with a delightfully sweet and spicy sauce, if only it was served a little warmer.
I would describe the Kanon Jeeb Chau Moung, steamed Royal Thai dumplings,as a Thai take on Chinese sui mai.
While the dumplings were cold and the wrapped was dried out, there was a well seasoned meat filling. I’m wish I knew why these dumplings and the calamari were the only cold items on the Tasting Tree.
There was another cold dish, but I’m fine when cold spring rolls arrive from the kitchen.
With the forward flavor and crunch of carrots in each bite, these spring rolls were spicy and very well done.
The last part of the Tasting Tree was Nan’s take on the satay. Tender chunks grilled beef and meatballs were a break from the satay norm.
The sweet sauce may have worked well with the beef, it was even better with the meatballs.

I never need a good excuse for a bowl of soup, but with the weather in the high 40s and rainy, it was the perfect time for a steaming bowl of broth based goodness. While Nan may only have three soups on their menu, the Tom Yum Talay was just what I was hoping for.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was the pungency of this soup. The first spoonful of vinegary broth was disarming, but it quickly became quite delicious.
The shrimp were tender and briny, the mushrooms just tender, and the strips of kaffir lime leaves gave just enough of their flavor to each spoonful. Unfortunately, the rest of the seafood was completely overcooked.

When it came to entrees, Nan left us spoiled for choices. From the pick your curry & pick your protein section to pad thai to the chef’s selections, each entrée was a tantalizing choice but I was drawn Gang Panang Nuea. It’s not often you see short ribs on a Thai menu, so I was curious to see how Nan would handle that cut of beef.
Once it arrived, I really couldn’t figure this dish out. Nearly everything about it was delicious. The red curry sauce was wonderfully flavored and complimented the toothsome green beans, but the beef was a different story. The short ribs were fall apart tender but oddly tough and stringy. While the ribs were passable with the red curry sauce, it’s hard to justify Nan’s prices for stringy beef.

Needless to say this last visit to Nan was a mixed bag. There were some high points: the calamari, the curry sauce, the satay, but they seemed to have missed the mark on others. I like Nan, the décor, the knowledgeable wait staff, the enticing menu, it all makes for an excellent package, but this past meal of cold food and overcooked proteins just doesn’t justify the prices. I’ll probably give Nan another try, but after this meal, it’s not very high on my list.

Nan Thai Fine Dining Address & Information
Nan Thai Fine Dining on Urbanspoon