Posts Tagged ‘the country cat’

Corn Grits

October 26th, 2011


The consumption of grits is a long standing tradition of Southern Cuisine.  The culinary ritual of grinding corn  by a stone meal comes to us from the Native Americans and thrives today all over the south and anywhere else that is influenced by regional American cuisine.  Southern food, someone said, is the only uniquely American of foods.

There exists a passionate streak in every southerner when it comes to the proper cooking, holding and consumption of grits.  Every man and woman in the south has at one point or another eaten a bowl full of the milled corn and has an opinion on it.  Salt, butter and time on low heat  suffices for the preparation of this meal.

When people ask me what grits are and their faces remain blank after I have replied  “milled corn” I go on to explain that they are similiar to polenta.  That inevitably receives an “ahh” of recognition and we continue on with the conversation.

Grits at the restaurant come from South Carolina.  I tell folks that Adam polled the confederate states to find out which had the finest product.  South Carolina won.  Every once in a while someone asks us to add cheese to it, and occasionally a variation of cheese grits becomes the bed for some charred, sweat protein appetizer.

The preparation of corn grits is such a fundamental part of our American cuisine and really an extremely economic method of feeding the family that everyone should know how to make them.  It is really quite easy, and if you come check us out at you can find out how to make corn grits and how to braise a hog shoulder and put yourself a pretty inexpensive but very tasty dinner for the family.


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Junior Chef Cook Off: a duckspoon family event

June 9th, 2011

farmers market open

junior chef

On June 5th we opened up the 2011 season of the Montavilla Farmers Market with a cooking demonstration focused on having family fun in the kitchen. Three local chefs, all nationally acclaimed, showed up that 80 degree partially cloudy sky (it’s Portland!) with youngsters in tow.

Tim Daly, from the Cheese Bar, showed with his daughter Hannah and her friend.

Adam Sappington from the Country Cat showed up with the boys, Atticus and Quinn.

Kenny Hill from Trebol showed up with his daughter, but 3 month old baby girls aren’t allowed to compete.  So Helena and little Iris showed up to stand in.

I sent the kids into the market, they grabbed the fresh produce and cheeses and breads and raced back to the kitchen stations to make some food. It was great to have my original duckspoon crew there plus some new folks helping the chefs out and filming all the fun. Thanks guys!

The audience voted by submitting tokens or cash into the voting boxes and we raised $192 for the Dougy Center. Thanks everyone!

This is just a sneaker promo as I dig into these little cutie culinary videos and excavate all the little gems and focus on their actual recipes. Stay tuned!

The best corn grits in town

February 12th, 2011


Corn grits are different all over the United States.  The corn grows in different soil, is generally milled the same into meal, and the water which absorbs into the grits through the cooking process has a different mineral element depending on where you are.  People come in to the restaurant and consistently complement us on the grits that we serve either as a side or with the pork dish.

The process takes about 45 minutes to take the milled corn and transform them into the corn grits.  Now, differences in corn aside, the proper way to make this southern corn dish is the slow absorption of water into the grits coupled with the slow absorption of butter.  Cheese can be added after the cooking process is finished, but that is a matter of taste and of diet.

Even though there are local places to buy corn grits, we bring them in from South Carolina.  This is an expensive way to make grits and sometimes the supply chain can break down and we won’t have them on the menu for a week or two, but Adam says the grits from South Carolina are his favorite and that’s what he wants to serve.

The white corn grits from South Carolina are mandated by the states to be enriched, similar to the enriched flour that we use in our kitchens.  I asked Adam about that once and he replied that they just taste right to him.  Corn grits should be creamy and lovely, and that’s what we do at the Country Cat.

I jumped in to the Cat one morning and was able to catch Mike making corn grits for the day (we serve the grits during the day with country ham and the red eye gravy).  Of course conversation took the turn and next we were discussing the movie My Cousin Vinny and how the cooking of grits was a pivotal point in the court case.  So come visit and check out the corn grits made in the kitchen at the Country Cat!

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Chipped Beef: some old traditions are the best.

February 2nd, 2011

chipped beef

An introduction to chipped beef

Chipped beef harkens from the days before refrigeration when meat needed to be cured, dried or canned to preserve it until the next hog or steer was slaughtered.  It seems unimaginable to us today to be unable to barbacue steaks or pork cutlets whenever we feel like driving down to the corner market and purchasing our plastic wrapped, already fabricated protein.  This was not always true.

Smoked salmon and beef jerky are the two most popular and well known methods of preserving meat, yet chipped beef in its heyday was universally known around the country.  In military jargon this was called SOS (Shit on a Shingle) because the meat could be dry packed and shipped overseas and then draped over a slab of toast for breakfast.

The recipe for chipped beef varies as you travel across America: at one point many small diners served SOS (Same Old Stuff in more gentile parts of the country) for breakfast, but I will hazard to guess that not many diners are currently serving this meaty dish.  There is a resurgence with the traditional butchery of hogs and cattle and with that movement comes the traditional methods of preparing and preserving the meat.

Chipped beef at The Country Cat is beef brisket that has been brined for five days, then pulled from the brine and sliced thin.  From there the brisket gets dredged in seasoned flour and deep fried until it is golden brown.  The chipped beef is then added to a combination of sweated celery, onions and fennel which has had sufficient chicken stock added to cover the beef.

I wasn’t able to capture the completion of the SOS, but managed to catch the begginning in An introduction to chipped beef.  We haven’t received our side of beef yet this week so when that happens, and when Mike makes the recipe again I will get in there film the chipped beef getting made and upload it up to

Stay tuned!


A bona fide steak: Beef at The Country Cat

May 28th, 2010

What do you look for in a steak?  Price? Hearty flavor?  Quality of life for the cattle  and a humane slaughter?  A healthy feed profile?  Eating isn’t simple anymore, and eating meat isn’t what it used to be.

In a world inundated with corn fed, chemically dependant cattle, it is difficult to get a good steak anymore.  Have we forgotten what good steak tastes like? Good beef tastes like the earth.  Like integrity.

The first real boss I had taught me about integerity.  Chef Willie Matson sat me down and explained  that a job accomplished with attention and focus was a job well done, even the humble washing of dishes.  Living life with full attention and focus is all one can really  endeavor  to do.

From the farm to your plate takes integrity: cattle raised with respect and fed healthy food; slaughtered quickly and humanely;  fabricated by your local butcher or chef.   That attention to detail is beginning to happen all around the country.   Attention to detail from Adam Sappington at The Country Cat

Cattle raised on industrial feedlots  ingest a steady diet of anti-biotics  to combat the destructive effects of a corn diet.  Certainly pasture raised beef lead a healthier, stress free life without anti-biotics, and the meat is healthier, but a partial grain diet does not necessarily degrade the health of the cattle.  In fact, the addition of grain to the diet can heighten the quality of the meat from a consumer’s point of view.  Adam’s palate for beef

The important component is the respect being given each animal.  That respect extends not only to the animal during the raising period, but also to the slaugther, fabrication, and the presentation to the end consumer…the public.  Respect the Customer and the Cattle

Grass fed, healthy cattle can be found.  Even grain fed, healthy cattle can be found.  Quality meat, raised, slaughtered and fabricated with integrity is out there.

The customer has to ask for it.  Put the onus on the butcher.  Ask the restaurant staff where the beef is from.  Find out whether you can purchase quality meat direct from the ranchers in your area.  In Portland

Integrity is beginning to be a valued commodity.  How do you like your steak?

Is that what we eat?

October 6th, 2009

I posted a link to the video that I edited of Skeeter breaking down a hog’s head to make headcheese for the restaurant.  My friend, John Moody (, and I had filmed Skeeter process a whole hog into manageeable parts to be served at the restaurant.  This was the biggest hog that had come through the doors yet.  This beast was only 8 pounds lighter than Skeeter!

I was fine with Skeeter carving out the hog’s shoulder.  Cutting out the neck seemed merely an addendum. Even slicing off the flank of the hog failed to scare up a hackle on my arm…but watching Skeeter hew the skull into pieces without hesitancey set me aback a little.  That quiesiness drew my attention and I pursued that little sickling through my mental labryinth and tried to bring it into the open scrutiny of my conscous mind.  Hewing of the Hog’s Head

Watching the lifeless jaws yawn up at me tightened my bowels a little bit.  I would have averted my gaze earlier when Skeeter gauged out the eyes, but I was editing and so had a duty to fulfill.  My girlfriend squeeled and scurried from the room, exhorting me to care for her peace of mind  a little more earnestnly.

I couldn’t tell whether I was uneasy with the concept of eating my fellow mammals due to the inane wrongness of it or because I was so inured to only consuming already processed, packaged protein which held no suggestion of origin.

Perhaps because there is very little genetic difference between a hog and a human, and I am of the imaginative type, the undoing of the head into smaller pieces which could then be cooked ina pot to create headcheese creeped me out a bit.  I understood that humans need protein to survive, and the current predominant cultural method of procuring protein was to slaughter animals, and I knew utilizing each portion of the beast was the only way to honor its death (and maintain the bottom line of the business).

To resolve this issue I thought it best to follow this quesiness to its logical conclusion.
Go witness the slaughtering of hogs meant for the dinner plate.

A simple bite

September 29th, 2009

A man came into the restaurant tonight with his wife and mother for his birthday dinner. They each asked me a series of questions seeking clarification about certain menu items.  Is the fried chicken traditional?   I gave the whole spiel about the chicken: how it spends 24 hours brining in salt water; 24 hours soaking in buttermilk; dredged in seasoned flour and finally fried in beef suet.  They were impressed and the gentleman asked if their were another item that was particularly special.  Hands down, the whole hog plate, I said.  We butcher a hog every week in back and you get four different cuts that we prepare four different ways.

“Over the fish and shellfish pan-roast,” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

When the plate arrived I asked him if he would like me to point out the different cuts.  In response he navigated the plate, telling me, quite correctly, the identity of each cut. When he came to the corn meal crusted head cheese he stopped and asked what it was.  I told him.

He looked at me and then told me a story of how he had had one bite of head cheese 25 years ago and had avoided it ever since.  I explained the integrity of our kitchen and he said he would try it.  He ate the whole thing and liked it.

I can’t think of a better example to illustrate my favorite moment in my restaurant life: to take a guest’s perception about an item, or the restaurant itself, and move it 180 degrees in the opposite direction.  It’s a two way street, for sure.  The guest has to be willing to taste the head cheese, even after 25 years of built up distaste.  And, of course, it has to be prepared correctly. Sometimes it seems magical what one can accomplish through doing things the right way.


September 9th, 2009

I had always been taught to season at the very end of the cooking process and not to add salt to a marinade. Salt draws moisture from the product.  My father always told me that any reduction of water will increase the ratio of salt to product, which may make the final product too salty.

But at the Farmer’s Market demonstration that Adam did a while ago, he professed the opposite theory.  In other words to salt as you go.  Salt as you go

We cure a lot of our meats at the Country Cat before we cook them, but the above example Adam is talking about vegetables and the resultant flavor profiles that proper seasoning imbues in the food.  Food for thought (and testing in the kitchen).

Tasting the product

September 1st, 2009

I have worked in places where the chef  will raise his eyebrows at you if he catches you munching on a dinner roll.  Lord forbid he catches you eating black berries in the walk-in cooler.

I was laughing to myself  earlier today about eating at the Country Cat.   Not only does Adam feed us a meal before service (it is usually an amazingly healthy salad which helps offset the evening meal) and again feeds us after (we eat a lot of fried chicken!), but he also encourages us to eat during service and as we are setting the restaurant up.  Taste the raw product first is how Adam encourages us to understand the culinary concept behind the Country Cat.

It’s not that rare that a restaurant owner will feed the staff, but it is very rare for the owner to consistently get excited and want to share that excitement with the employees.

A little bacon in the summertime

September 1st, 2009

Adam Sappington defines Summer Succotash

Portland is such a fun city to live in if food excites you and you like to hear knowledgeable folks talk about it. I was able to film my boss, Adam, as he went to the PSU downtown Farmer’s market and demonstrated the Chef in the Market.
Shell beans and ripe corn and onion and a little love provides a beautiful summer succotash. And bacon.
Portland is a city with pork on the plate, so to speak.  Mortdadella, Proscuitto, thick cut bacon all abound in this town.
The end of summer with its baby onions and its sweet corn and bright blackberries is a lovely vehicle to add a little smoked bacon to.   That is of course if you are not vegetarian. Heck, take the bacon, cream and butter out and the fresh veggies and fruits are a vegan delight as well.  Really, anything goes if the raw product is the best available.  Interpretative Summer Succotash