Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fried Homemade Mozzarella, Apple Chile Salad

For The Dinner to Fight Hunger, my theme for the menu was to take typical popular menu items from any given American restaurant, and then elevate them in some way. All of them were successful to some degree, so for posterity, I am laying down the recipes here. Please email me if you have questions, since a lot of this was made up on the fly, and is thus difficult to pin down in an actual repeatable recipe.

The first course was my interpretation of a fried mozzarella stick. Who doesn't love those? Literally one of the worst things you can put into your body, nutritionally, but DELICIOUS. My first step toward getting more out of a cheese stick was to make my own cheese. That sounded intimidating to me, too, but with a little internet research, a trip to the home brew store, and a gallon of milk, it was a piece of cake. My first attempt was an utter failure, but that was totally due to my inability to follow the perfectly clear and simple directions. Try #2 made perfectly delicious mozzarella. Try #3 made even better cheese, and more of it. It just takes a second to perfect your technique.

There are tons of options online that describe in detail how to do this. The one I had the most success with was this one. I used vegetable rennet solution instead of animal rennet tablets, so I just followed the dilution directions on the bottle. Also, this recipe doesn't go into detail about salting the cheese, but that was ok, since I knew I would be breading and seasoning it later on. I added about 2 teaspoonsful of cheese salt roward the end of the process, and it was just right.

Ingredients needed:
1 Gallon Milk                                    *I got the citric acid, rennet and cheese salt at 5th Season
1 1/2 tsp citric acid
1/8 tsp rennet
2 tsp cheese salt

Purists will say that what I made was not REAL mozzarella. Purists live sad, boring lives. Most Italian mozz is made from a specific breed of buffalo milk, and is made all on the stovetop, and pulled in a water bath. My cheese was made with a gallon of fresh Shenandoah Pride whole cow's milk. I finished it in the microwave and pulled it on my cutting board. Get over it.

It is utterly unbelievable that four ingredients and 45 minutes can produce a perfectly perfect pound of fresh mozzarella cheese, but believe me, you'll never buy it at the store again.

I formed the cheese into 2 inch diameter rolls, and wrapped them in plastic and put them in the fridge. When ready to cook, I sliced the cheese into 1/2 inch thick discs, dredged them in flour, dunked them into a milk/egg wash, then breaded them in bread crumbs seasoned with salt and dried parsley. Chef Keevil recommended a second trip to the flour and then back to the breadcrumbs, and this made a much better crust, so I would do that for sure. We fried the cheese in oil for about 3 minutes until golden brown, then drained on a paper towel.

They were perfectly crispy on the outside and stretchy and gooey on the inside. Best mozzarella stick ever.

Rather than serving a marinara dipping sauce for dipping, I topped it with a salad variation from a fried halloumi cheese recipe I made when auditioning for Chopped. They never called me back, which I credit to them not wanting it to be unfair to the other competitors.

Apple Chile Salad
1 sweet apple, matchsticked
1 tart apple, matchsticked
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 yellow pepper, julienned
1 hot chile, finely chopped
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp capers, coarsely chopped

1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp honey
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all dressing ingredients except oil with a wisk. Slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking furiously until dressing is well emulsified.
Add all salad ingredients to a bowl, and toss with dressing until all is lightly coated. Try not to over dress so it doesn't get soggy.

Serve a small pile of salad on top of your piping hot cheese stick.

I was going to brag about this being a 100% vegetarian dish, but then I forgot that milk comes from animals. I really suck at vegetarianizing. Sorry guys.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Dinner to Fight Hunger

Ever witnessed something that started with a "What if we...." and ended up with "How the heck did that happen?" That's pretty much what happened with The Dinner to Fight Hunger.

The Dinner was basically a pop-up restaurant evening at Brookeville Restaurant where I (an amateur) prepared a five course tasting menu using local ingredients. We sold tickets to the public and used the money from the tickets as a donation to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. I won't bore you, loyal reader (singular), with the backstory, but the actual event itself was a seriously unique experience, not because of the food, but because of the people.

Cooking really started for me as a hobby, but it held my interest when it became about people, and about a community. I realized how great that community really is through putting on this event.

Going into the dinner, I expected it would be a flop. Why would perfect strangers pay their hard earned money for the cooking of a perfect stranger? Why would a critically acclaimed restaurant allow an unskilled goof into their kitchen, knowing there would be a fifty fifty chance I might burn it down? Excellent questions. The answer? The food community here is full of the best kind of people, and they all care about supporting hungry people in our area.

 I had never met Jennifer and Harrison Keevil, co-owners and chef (Harrison) of Brookeville, going into this, but they are passionate about food, and fully invested in giving back to this community. They never hesitated to welcome me into their place and spent tons of time and energy helping make The Dinner a success. They were there for any stupid question I had, they were a great resource in my search for local ingredients (no resto does that better in Cville), and one of the highlights of the whole thing for me was a lesson in Plating from Chef Harrison himself. These two have about a million things going on in their lives, but they took a ton of time (on their day off) to help us make this possible, and that is a rare thing. Go down there immediately and celebrate their benevolence with Chicken & Bacon Waffles.

I never really expected people I didn't know to pay for tickets to this thing. We offered 20 tickets, and I thought more than half of them might be tough sells. I was shocked to see that once the word got out, we sold out within a day and a half of the announcement. What-the-What? I can promise you it wasn't the legends of my good cooking that brought them in. The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank is doing powerful work to feed the hungry in our area, and good people here just jumped at the opportunity to pitch in. When we had cancellations along the way, someone would contact me out of the blue and snap up the empty seats. We were literally destined to reach our overall goal.

Just like the last big dinner, gathering the ingredients was one of my favorite parts.We were about 85% locally sourced this time, and the quality of the results definitely benefitted from it.  Getting to know the food producers around here is a ton of fun, and they are all really terrific people. They were all very excited about the opportunity to help out for this Event. Watching them sneak in a discount or add a few more potatoes to the bag after they weighed it was just more evidence that people care about people.

Every time help was needed, someone gave it. Austin and Jessi were my loyal sous chefs/servers/dish washers, and they were ON FIRE. Not literally. Figuratively. It would have all screeched to a halt without their work, and they were 100% volunteer. Except for the free beer. And meatballs. Kevin, one of our diners, volunteered to help me prep vegetables, and he came out to the house on Saturday and chopped onions like a champ! Who does that? It turns out he has some experience cooking for causes, and we are already talking about collaborating on future events. Wendy Edwards, a local radio talk show host and DJ, offered her help for the evening  and did a phenomenal job hosting and speaking on behalf of the Food Bank and how donation dollars go to help our hungry neighbors.

By the time the doors actually opened, I was riding on a super high of positive energy from all the people who had gotten involved to get us to that point. It could have been awkward to put a bunch of strangers at a farm style table for five courses, but everyone there was ridiculously friendly, and I really believe that they came in as diners and left as friends. It was a really fun room to be in.

There are great people here, and I am glad to know them. It was my priviledge to put a few plates on the table, but 21 of our neighbors provided money that will make its way through the BRAFB's system and provide meals for literally thousands of hungry people.
Ba-Bam! That just happened!

The Dinner To Fight Hunger
First Course:
Fried Cheese Stick
Homemade Mozzarella Cheese, Apple, Red Pepper, Chile, Honey
Wild Wolf Ginger Lager
Soup and Half Sandwich
Double Buffalo Slider. Bison Patty, Smoked Buffalo Shrimp, Appalachian Cheese
Potato Cheese Beer Soup Shooter
Devil's Backbone Striped Bass Pale Ale
BBQ Special
Bacon Wrapped Smoked Meatball, Fall Slaw, Pickled Vegetables, Habanero Pear BBQ sauce
Brew Ridge Trail Black Tripel Ale
Pot Roast & Mashed Potatoes
Beer Braised Short Rib, Smashed Sweet Chipotle Sweet Potato, Bacon, Hickory Syrup
Blue Mountain Dark Hollow Ale
Chocolate Pie
Dark Chocolate Ancho Chile Tart, Raspberry Lime sauce
Devil's Backbone Skull Crushing Ape Lager

I'd like to give a special thanks to all the local food producers and distributors who contributed to the dinner. I will list them here in no particular order. Please go out right this minute and buy food from these people. It will positively make your dishes taste better.
Appalachia Star Farm
Timber Creek Organics
BBQ Exchange
Albemarle Baking Company
Gardens of Khmet
Planet Earth Diversified
Mountain View Orchard
The Organic Butcher
The Spice Diva
Radical Roots Farm
Brookeville Restaurant
Devil's Backbone Brewery
Wild Wolf Brewery
Blue Mountain Brewery

Recipes for all menu items will be coming very soon!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Dinner to Fight Hunger Recap...teaser anyways

Full story to come later. Hey, I have to go to my REAL job, do get off me. I'll have the full Monty by tomorrow

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Fried Cheese Stick That is Going to Get Me Onto Chopped

So. I tried out for Chopped..... I can visualize the producers sitting in their dark screening room watching audition tapes now......(doodley doo! doodley doo! doodley doo!)......(that was the sound effect from Wayne's World when they would do a dream sequence).........(just forget it)

Justin on Tape: "And that is why I think I will be the Chopped: Amateuer champion."

Producer #1: "We could take this guy if we could find a demographic he would do well with."

Producer #2: "Hmmmm....How big is our Assisted-Living Home viewer group?"

Temp: "Not big."

Producer #1: "Maybe we can pick up some viewers among  Female 45-50Year Old Owners of 15 or  More Cats?"

Producer #2: "Nope, his dishes have too many vegetables. I've got it! Criminally Insane, Vision Impaired Alien Abductees?"

Producer #1: "Genius. Get us Justin from The Jacked Up Grill!"

Doodley Doo! Doodley Doo! Doodley Doo!

Seriously, I REALLY want them to pick me. Chopped on Food Network gets a stupid amount of airtime at our house, and I have always wanted in on that action. Their Amateur episode is coming up, and I put my name in the hat. I'm sure about a jillion other people did, too but a guy can dream....

In the DIY audition video, they wanted you to talk about food, so I cooked a few dishes to put on camera, and they turned out pretty fantastic. Hopefully my food will woo them more than my massive head.

My dishes included Flat Iron Steak Chimichurri, Fennel Salad and a new one, fried halloumi cheese with orange.

Recipe for the cheese is at the end.

One question on the audition was "Tell us about any thwarted culinary dreams."
My answer, honestly, was that my culinary dreams are coming true these days. I am getting better and better in the kitchen, I am cooking more refined dishes for more people, I have a following (2 people) online, A recipe of mine was featured in a blog I really respect (Beyond the Flavor), and my cooking is going to raise some money for a great cause (Blue Ridge Area Food Bank), AND I get to cook in a real restaurant in October.

So no matter what happens with Chopped, my cooking career, er, hobby is looking really good, especially with the crazy, blind alien abductee crowd.

Pan Fried Halloumi Cheese with Orange Salad
makes 4 servings

8 slices halloumi cheese 1/4 inch thick
1 ripe orange, cut into supremes (supremes means the meat is cut out with no white membrane)
1 jalapeno pepper finely diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp honey
juice of 1 lime
panko bread crumbs

For the dressing, mix the onion, jalapeno, honey and lime juice until it's pretty runny. This works best when done earlier in the day, so that the honey can really soak up the heat from the peppers.

Halloumi is a very firm cheese that has some weird chemistry that keeps it from melting like normal cheese when it gets hot. This stuff can even be placed on the grill, and it will keep its shape. It is important to cook it long enough for the heat to get all the way through, though, because it can be rubbery if it's raw.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Press the cheese on both sides into the bread crumbs, and then gently place into the oil. Don't mess with it for at least 2-3 minutes, so the crumbs get golden brown and crispy. Gently flip and do the other side for 2 more minutes.

Remove from heat and drain on a paper towel.
Place the cheese on the plate. Stack a few of the orange slices on top, and drizzle with the honey dressing. Getchyo fork ready!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Go By the Hat Store, Things Just Got Real.......

Fight Hunger with Food. And Beer.

So here's how it's going to go down.

Sunday, October 14
Brookeville Restaurant

Five Courses of Jacked Up Grill Classics

Beer Pairings From Local Breweries

Support Hungry Neighbors via the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank

Donation Suggested: $50 per person

Who knows what a carbon footprint is?  That's how much "carbon based" energy or resources you burn up when you do something. For example, if you go to Disneyworld, you can theoretically measure how much oil, gas, plastic, coal and whatever else it cost the world for that trip to happen, and that is your carbon footprint. Now there are gigs out there that let you supposedly negate your carbon footprint by buying interest in clean energy and recycling and rehyrdation of mummies and cuddling unicorns and stuff like that, and then you feel better about that tenth trip down Space Mountain and that fifth burrito in Little Mexico at Epcot. The concept has been a revelation to me lately.

What is your food footprint? I am a big guy. It's no secret to both of you who read this blog that we like our food over here. I like to eat out, and I REALLY like to cook, and by the time you add up all the groceries and the gadgets and the charcoal (and the beer), a lot of money gets involved. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But last month, a few days before hosting a large dinner party, my wife and I went on a trip to DC for our anniversary. We ate at a fancy restaurant, and we had the time of our lives, but at some point it hit me that about 30 feet from where I sat eating my butter poached steak, there was a guy with a cardboard sign begging for change. How rotten must it feel to have a pang in your stomach from lack of calories, when you can see a guy your age through the window eating a $50 steak? That upset me. Now I don't think it's wrong to be successful. I don't think it's wrong to indulge in anything, especially food. However, the concept of my own food footprint got right up in my face after that.

Hunger affects so many more people than you know. In fact, statistics say you KNOW someone who is skipping a meal so they can pay their power bill. Or pick up their prescription. There are kids out there who think boiled potato night is like Christmas. Nobody likes to get a guilt trip laid on them, but THIS IS REAL. We all need to eat. It's the great equalizer for us. So let's stop pretending it's too big a problem, or that it's someone else's problem, or that there are enough soup kitchens that people can go to, or that we gave enough at the office. Let's stick it to empty stomachs right now, and I'll even give you a good time for your troubles.

The good folks Jennifer and Harrison Keevil of  Charlottesville's own Brookeville Restaurant have been generous enough to let The Jacked Up Grill take over their kitchen and dining room on Sunday October 14 for a Dinner To Fight Hunger. This is just me, an amateur, cooking the best locally sourced dishes I can come up with, but I promise I haven't seen anyone spit any of my cooking out lately, and you may even be surprised. There will be five courses, and each will be paired with a craft beer from one of our excellent breweries.

How does serving all this food to a bunch of white folks help starving kids? Good Question. The only thing we ask for attending is a donation of $50 per person, which will go directly to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. If you don't know their story, look them up here. This outfit serves MILLIONS of meals per year, and they are EXTREMELY good at it. There are 20 seats available for this dinner. EVERY PENNY of your $50 is going directly to the Food Bank. The folks there can turn each dollar into FOUR meals, and our goal is $1,000, so unless you need serious math help, that means 4,000 mouths will be fed with what we do on October 14. I'd say if I burn the shrimp that night, it will still taste better than that steak did in DC.

Food is good. Food makes people happy. That's why I cook. I know $50 ain't no joke to lots of us, including me, but I promise you the food will be worth it, and you will meet some incredible people. But think about what you're doing to help your neighbors. If you leave Brookeville that night thinking your money wasn't well spent, let me know, but if I have learned anything in my life, I have learned that the most rewarding things you can do are the things that cost you something. You won't regret it, and you can enjoy every bite knowing that someone else is going to eat well because of what you did.

Plus, at the last dinner I did, everyone got free stick-on mustaches, so there you go.

Seats are filling up fast, so if you want to attend, email me at, and I'll put you on the list.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Magical Bacon. Also, How to Ruin Perfectly Good Clams.

On a hill in Madisonville, Tennessee, there is a verdant green hill with a non-descript cinder block building about half way up painted with the logo "We Smoke 'Em." The unaware traveller might think that this is a simple Tennessean's expression of what to do with the mushrooms that grow in cow poo. The discerning pork enthusiast will look at that block house with a knowing smirk, however,  while salivating in the jowls thinking about the magical bacon curing inside.

 Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams is a family business that follows age old principles of pork production to create truly transcendental bacon, prosciutto and country hams, and you should all keep your coronary arteries open just long enough to get a taste of their magical products. Tennesse, the perfect state (my home state), is the perfect place to raise pigs who produce the perfect bacon. Heritage breed pigs are an important factor in perfect bacon, and Benton's uses these. For perfect fattiness, the pigs need to eat a natural, evolutionarily correct food source, which happens to be acorns. Tennessee's abundant wild oak tree forests are perfect for these, and Benton's pigs roam free and eat a diet exclusively of acorns. Having the right pig on the right diet is one thing, but Benton's seals the deal by dry curing the bacon for months at a time using brown sugar, salt and intense hickory smoke. I'm sure lots of bacon producers can boast similar checklists. But there is something about Benton's that makes high end restaurants all over America pine for their stuff. I had to have some.

It took about a month and a half for my bacon to arrive due to the long backorder. It wasn't really expensive. It cost less than Oscar Meyer per pound (you have to order at least 4 pounds at $4.29 per pound), but the shipping costs add enough so that it's not something you want to do every day. When it arrived, even the outside of the box was perfumed with delicious smoke. I thought about eating the cardboard, but I knew my wife would judge me, so I refrained.

There was a lot of pressure on this bacon. I'm not going to lie. When I fried some up to add to my clam broth tonight, I had high, high hopes. I separated out two slices and diced them up to go with my standard clam preparation. At once, I noticed the intense smoky smell, even before it hit the pan. It is almost acrid. The entire kitchen was soon smelling like a 19th century smokehouse. The fat content in the bacon was about twice what you see in typical bacon. You could tell something was different about it as it warmed up in the pan. It started to turn translucent and melt much more quickly than usual. The rub on the outside (simply brown sugar, salt and sodium nitrate) was very thick, and the edges started crisping immediately. It was almost upsetting to stand over the pan, because the smoke smell was burning my eyes. By the time I got it crisp, there was a huge amount of renedered fat in the pan, and the bacon pieces were golden brown. I tried one (ten) of the little pieces, and they truly were like nothing I have had before. The smoke is not overpowering in flavor, but it is definitely intense. The flavor of the red meat and the fat is like a cross between the best bacon you ever had and a really fine piece of tender country ham. I can totally see what all the fuss is about.

Now for standard bacon strip consumption, Chef Craig Hartman's Redeye Bacon from the BBQ Exchange is pretty tough to beat for me. But for flavoring of other dishes, this Benton's bacon may be my new go-to.

In unrelated news, I made this beautiful bowl of clams with linguine in a white wine bacon garlic sauce, and was extremely excited about eating it. Most of my clam cooking has been done with farm raised clams, which usually come pre-cleaned. The ones tonight were fresh from the sea, however, and they were jam packed with sand. I soaked them in cold tap water for about 15 minutes before steaming, but apparently fresh wild clams need more like an hour to expell all of their sand. Oops. The first one I bit into was like chomping on a wet paper towel full of sandy grit. It was awful. But in between tooth breaking gnaws, I could taste how delicious the broth was, which was really frustrating. Epic Fail.

Moral to the story, soak wild clams for a really long time in cold water so they don't save a little surprise for you.

Basic Delicious Clam Broth
1 pound small clams (littleneck or cherrystone clams are the best)
1/2 bottle good dry white wine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 vidalia onion, diced
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 stick butter
2 strips bacon, diced
salt and pepper to taste
fresh chopped parsley

Soak clams in cold, fresh water for AT LEAST AN HOUR IF THEY ARE WILD CAUGHT.
Some say salty water works better, and some even say putting corn meal in the water makes the clams eject their sandy poo more efficiently. Whavev, just make sure they eject it. Sand equals a deadly bite.

Fry bacon over medium heat until lightly crisp. Remove bacon from fat. Add butter and sautee onions and garlic in bacon fat for 4 minutes over medium heat, until translucent. Pour in wine and scrape brown bits off the bottom. Raise heat until boiling, and add clams to liquid. Cover, and after about five minutes, the clams should be open and done. Discard any clams that didn't open, and pour the broth over pasta. Add the clams on top and sprinkle with fresh parsley and grated fresh parmesan cheese. Serve with crusty bread for dipping.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Shaved Fennel Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette. Ya, I Said "Salad." Come On, YOLO.

YOLO. Pretty sure it means "You Only Live Once," but with these internet things, you never know. I look at food pictures on Pinterest, which is a great place for ideas, but I also see a lot of YOLOs, "Call me later, maybe?"s, "I can has cheeseburgers," "Hey Girl..."s, "Keep Calm..."s, E-Cards and what not, and 99.9 % of it means absolutely nothing to me. The generational gap prevents me from trying to keep up with that kind of stuff, because I'm pretty sure that if I thought too hard about whatever the heck a "Meme" is, a wormhole would be created, and the world would end in fire. However, YOLO has struck a chord with me. Not because the stuff on Pinterest that uses it is funny, because it certainly isn't. It just sounds good to say. YOLO. Sure, it's just carpe diem for a generation who have never turned the corner of a page down in a book, but it still is a fun concept. YOLO. Since I discovered its meaning (thanks, Google), I have been saying it out loud in my mind at the end of almost every mental sentence (Mentance? YES. New word created. I'm Pinning it...).

Tonight, when sorting through my recent recipes to decide what to write about, I was all "Oooh, this salad was boss! and awesome!" (Bossome? YES. New word #2). Then I was like "Wait a minute, stupid. You can't write about a salad. You are the Meat Guy." (not a stage name). Then I totally came back with "Get up off me, Inner Monologue. I made a killer salad, and I'm writing it up. YO-Friggin-LO."

And there you have it....

Lots of people have never cooked with fennel at home, because it's one of those weird things at the store that you always see but never buy. Plus it smells like licorice, which is nasty. However, fennel is an extremely versatile ingredient that adds subtle complexity and great flavor to lots of dishes. I am a total fennel convert, and it really makes a great salad. I found this recipe online, changed it slightly to my taste,  and paired it with my own bacon vinaigrette, and it is a new staple at our house.

Shaved Fennel Salad with Bacon Shallot Vinaigrette


  • 1 medium-large zucchini, sliced paper thin
  • 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and shaved paper-thin
  • 2/3 cup loosely chopped fresh dill
  • 1 bag arugula
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled     
  • sprinkle of sunflower seeds                           

    • For Bacon Vinaigrette

      • 3 strips bacon, cut into small pieces
      • 1 small shallot, finely diced
      • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
      • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
      • 1 tbsp honey

    • For Fennel Salad

      1. Adapted from
      2. In a bowl, marinate fennel, zucchini and dill in vinaigrette for 20 minutes. Place arugula on plate dry, top with fennel mixture, then top that with feta, sunflower seeds and bacon bits
    • For Bacon Vinaigrette

      1. In a skillet, brown bacon pieces, then remove onto a paper towel. In the bacon fat, cook shallot over medium low heat for 5 minutes, or until soft and brownish. Place shallots on towel with the bacon. Allow bacon fat to cool, then mix rendered fat, vinegar, mustard  and honey with a whisk until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.  Add bacon and shallots to dressing and mix thoroughly. Add small amount of olive oil if needed.

    This also goes great with a fried squash blossom on top. We did this for THE DINNER, and it added just one more level of awesomeness.

    So there you go. I posted a practically meat free salad. YOLO, my friends.

    Saturday, June 30, 2012

    The 2nd Annual Jacked Up Grill Not Quite Gourmet, Kid Tested, Mother Approved, Probably Part Organic, Definitely Awesome Cookout Like None You've Been To Before For All Time....Forever

    Who knows what a "locavore" is? I'll forego taking a poll, since I know there is only one person reading this, and I am married to her.

      lo·ca·vore   [loh-kuh-vawr, ‐vohr]
    noun a person who makes an effort to eat food that is grown, raised, or produced locally, usually within 100 miles of home.

    This is a huge fad in restaurants everywhere right now, and Charlottesville is the unofficial "Locavore Capitol of the World," according to a Forbes writer. Now the purpose of The Jacked Up Grill is to show how regular people can evolve and improve as cooks, so I have a pretty open mind when it comes to food trends, so for this year's greatest hits dinner, I thought I'd make it as locavore as possible.

    I decided to go extreme locavore, using only ingredients found within 100 feet of my house, but the menu would have been limited to black widow spiders, squirrels who haven't been taught fear and like to eat garbage, and one of my neighbor's 14 cats. I am all about protein-heavy meals, but I'm pretty sure some of our guests had cat allergies, so we expanded our radius.

    The search for local foods ought to have been extremely easy in this area, considering there is a farm on every corner with everything from artisanal acorn-fed pigs to kohlrabi (a weird vegetable that looks like a nitrogen based alien's prostate and tastes like nothing) to probably lots of weed. Of course according to City Council, you could get in more trouble for smoking the kohlrabi, but that's
    neither here nor there.

     The fact is, in mid June, getting a six course dinner completely locallys sourced is a tough task. I came up with my menu based off of successful recipes from the past year. Of course, when most of these were made before, "local" meant I got it from my local Harris Teeter. I had to take a step back to get the food actually produced locally. This presented a problem. If you want locally produced food, you have to get what is seasonably available. In mid June, this means you can have six courses of rainbow chard and beet juice, but nothing else. Don't even think about asking for a tomato. This did not work for me. So I reworked my strategy, buying locally produced when possible, and when not, buying from smaller, independent locally owned businesses, and only shopping at a major store when all else failed. It was successful, albeit exhausting and expensive, but I have a new appreciation for the locavore movement.

    Saturday, June 23 was the night of THE DINNER. We served six courses of plated food to 12 diners and paired each course with a craft beer from a local brewery. We had perfect weather, we ransacked Cville for babysitters so most of the guests (all parents of young children)could eat in peace, and so far, no one has died of food poisoning.
    The Menu:

    Smoky Shrimp with Goat Cheese Polenta Cake

    Bacon, Shallot, Herbed Sour Cream

    Mandolin Artisanal Ale, Blue Mountain Brewery

    10% ABV, 50 IBUs, 24° PLATO

    Red Pepper Gazpacho

    fennel bruschetta

    India Pale Lager, Devils Backbone Brewery

    6.1% ABV 50 IBUs

    Barbecuterie of Alternative BBQ

    Porchetta, Pork Rillette, Coffee Rubbed Spare Ribs

    2 BBQ sauces: Peach Habanero and East Carolina Vinegar

    Hazy Summer Lager, Devil’s Backbone Brewery

    4.5% ABV 16 IBUs

    Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette

    Yellow zucchini, sunflower seeds, Rhubarb, Fried Squash Blossom

    Strawberry Schwarzcake Schwarzbier, Wild Wolf Brewery

    5% ABV 20 IBUs

    Chipotle Flank Steak with Lime Butter

    Avocado Relish, Cheddar Corn Stick, Smoky Steak Sauce

    Dark Hollow Imperial Stout , Blue Mountain Brewery

    10% ABV, 79 IBUs, 25° PLATO

    Table Top Smores
    Himalayan Pink Sea Salt Milkshake Shooter

    I still had my $.25 Goodwill dishes from last year, but for six courses we had to add a few pieces. I tried to get the tackiest ones possible, and my personal favorites were the gaudy 50th anniversary plate and the Welcome to California dish that probably contains lead based paint.

    We went with simple dark red tablecloths, and since we are at heart, a BBQ joint, we put rolls of paper towels out instead of napkins. Because we were going to go through a lot beer, we found little tiny Red Solo cups. Classic JUG. The Charcuterie appetizer was served one per couple on carving boards I made myself to look like pigs.

    Everyone got a fake mustache with their menu, and the couple with the best mustache picture won a jar of peach habanero BBQ sauce to take home. Eric and Stasia scooped up the win with this hilarious...and slightly disturbing unibrow duo.

    The food all came out on time, and it all looked and tasted as good as I could have ever hoped. I planned ahead this year, which really isn't like me at all, and paced myself so that everything would be just right, and I managed to only overcook the shrimp and the flank steak, though both still tasted pretty good. Some of these menu items already have recipes available in past posts, but the new ones will be appearing soon on this blog, so stay tuned if you are interested in trying them yourself.

    I had a great time sharing all this with my friends, and I hope they all enjoyed themselves. By the end of the night, the high gravity brew got me talking about politics, which never ends well, so I apologize to any guests who had to suffer through my lecture on "serial killer policy making." You know who you are.

    At the end of the day, my lesson in locavoring taught me that it just isn't practical or neccessary to get every scrap of food on your table from a local producer. Himalayan pink sea salt is still only available in the Himalayas after all. BUT, I truly believe that supporting local business is the answer to a good chunk of our nation's problems, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the people who I got product from. Some of them were genuinely interested in what I was doing, and even offered help and advice on how to make the whole thing better. Will and Ben from the Rock Barn in Nelson County provided some of the pork for the dinner, and when I said I was making a rillette, Ben threw in a cured piece of ham they do themselves called a schweinshaxe that he thought would make it even better. It did, in fact, and I won't make another without including it. Appalachia Star Farm is a place we have a CSA share with, and the guy and his wife who run the place went out of their way to pick me a bag of squash blossoms for our salad course. We literally couldn't find them anywhere, and they took special care to pick perfect looking ones for us.
    Best of all was Chef Craig Hartman from the BBQ Exchange in Gordonsville. I looked high and low for a cut of pork with the skin on to make my porchetta, and had no luck. Chef Craig came to the rescue, and special ordered an entire pig just to get me the cut I need. I got to watch the master at work as he broke down the entire thing, and I got a real kick out of picking his brain about his business, his BBQ philosophies, and his views on "local" food service.

    The list of local vendors who contributed to this dinner is huge, and I'd say about 60% of the whole shebang came from within 100 miles of my house.

    I have to give a huge thanks to my two helpers for the evening, Austin and Jessi. Last year proved that trying to feed that many people on your own is a recipe for disaster, so I called in reinforcements this time. They were all over it, and they did a phenomenal job. When we start catering for real, I hope they'll want to join us.

    Mrs. Jacked Up Grill was extremely patient with me for the whole planning/execution/aftermath, and I owe her big time.

    Thanks to all who came, and I am already turning gears for the next one.....

    And thanks to Lisa and Allison and Amy for the awesome photos!