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Thursday, March 22, 2018


Grow them and I will come.

As we leave winter behind and slowly segue into spring, I dream of tomato-land. With my token seedlings planted and tucked away, I dream of  the endless sea of sun-kissed heirlooms that will flood our markets during midsummer's high season. Even now, knowing they're still months and months away, I close my eyes and can taste the warm sweet acidity  that only just picked vine-ripened summer tomatoes can bring to the table.

Last season was spectacular. Almost like no other. Almost overkill. Almost. Before I sensed my crazy, I'd already morphed into an obsessed tomato addict. Peeled. Unpeeled. Sliced. Chunked. Salted. Marinated. Roasted. Broiled. Sandwiched. Any way and every way possible to get my fix. I almost maxed out when popping tiny sweet sun golds like candy replaced gummies as my go to snack. I was in it to win it from the very first moment tomatoes arrived.
Because of the rains and weather, tomatoes were prolific. They kept coming and coming and coming. By late summer into early fall, the jewels of summer started to wane. Fewer in number with lesser intensity (but no less gorgeous), the late season tomatoes played second fiddle to the stalwarts of autumn. Even then, I wasn't quite ready to let them go. I needed to preserve the bounty.


Never much of a canning pro, I gave up it a while back. Even though I watched and helped my grandmother put up hundreds of jars of canned tomato during my summers on the farm, I found that through years of trial and error I lacked the stamina, fortitude, and dimly lit cobweb-swathed cellar to live out her legacy. Canning simply didn't work out for for me and in lieu of the homespun sentimentality of mason jars, I turned to the freezer.

All Varieties. All sizes. All shapes.
A mishmash of late season tomatoes.
Sliced. Salted. Peppered. Herbed. Roasted. Bagged.

To capture a hint of summer and thwart the early spring chill, I pulled my stash from the freezer for an ode to tomato-land.

Braised Fennel With Roasted Tomatoes.
A simple braise.

After pulling my frozen roasted tomatoes from the freezer to thaw, I trimmed the stalks from 2 large fennel bulbs (fronds reserved) before quartering and coring the bulbs while being mindful to leave the root ends intact. After heating 2 tablespoon vegetable oil in a medium sized skillet until smoking hot, I sauteed the fennel quarters on all sides, seasoning them with salt and pepper after every turn. Just a hair before the fennel started to caramelize, I removed it to a side plate and tumbled 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves and 1 thinly sliced purple onion into the sizzling oil. When the garlic teetered on the brink of browning, I deglazed the skillet with 1 cup white wine, reduced it by half, and added 3 cups roasted tomatoes.

I brought the tomatoes to a gentle simmer, tossed a few fennel seeds into the mix to up the anise factor, and seasoned them with salt and cracked black pepper before nestling the reserve sauteed fennel quarters into the sauce. After raising the heat for a brisk simmer, I pulled the skillet from the heat and slid it into a preheated 350 oven.

Without fussing with the fennel, I let the quarters stew in the bubbling tomatoes for roughly 1 hour until they softened, caramelized around the edges, and melted into the sauce.

With the kitchen windows fogged over with the sweet scent of candied fennel, I pulled the braise from the oven and let it rest before finishing with a splash of fresh lemon juice, crunchy flaked sea salt, crumbled feta, and the reserved feathery fennel fronds.

Dolled up with the perky tang of  feta, the slight acidity of lemon, and the mellow sultry braised fennel, the roasted summer tomatoes poked through the glam to blow a wistful kiss to tomato-land.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Chasing shamrocks.

From the misty green fields of Ireland to the windswept bluegrass of Kentucky, we're all a wee bit Irish on St. Patrick's Day. Carpe deum. When Lexington rolls out the green carpet to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland, there's something Irish for just about everyone in every restaurant, on every corner, and in every bar throughout town.  Green beer, Guinness Stout, and Irish whiskey flows freely from indoor, outdoor, and curbside bars. Whether strictly authentic or riffs on authenticity, Irish fare stands front and center. Variations of Shepherd's Pie, Colcannon, Lamb Stew, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Irish Stew, Boxty, and Guinness-infused anything are plentiful.  Fancy a parade?  Grab a drink and stake claim to a curb on Main Street to soak in the familiar sound of bagpipes echoing  through the downtown buildings to usher in the throngs of Irish dancers, horses, cars, and clowns happily meandering down Main Street. Go ahead, raise a glass, kiss the Blarney Stone, or forage for clovers. Eat, drink, and be merry. When the frivolity wanes, the festivities ebb, the parade passes by, and it's time to retreat, cuddle up with a comforting bowl of  Dublin Coddle.

Dublin coddle, in its purist form, is a humble Irish stew containing only chopped potatoes, sliced onions, Irish pork sausages, bacon (rashers) and parsley layered in a pot with enough stock or water to cover and left to simmer (coddle) low and slow for 2 to 4 hours. Variations (considered sacrilege  by some folks) might include carrots, parsnips, or pearl barley. Staying true to the spirit of a traditional Dublin Coddle, I brought the  Emerald Isle to the bluegrass with the local flavors of Kentucky.

Dublin Coddle.

After drizzling 1/4 cup vegetable oil into the bottom of a cast iron dutch oven set over medium heat, I fried 1/2 pound sliced Foothills Meats fresh bacon for 5-6 minutes until crisped before scooping the pieces out onto paper towels to drain. While the oil was still sizzling hot, I placed 1 1/2 pounds Stonecross Farm pork sausages into the pot and let them rip, turning occasionally, until they were deeply caramelized on all sides.

After removing the sausages to drain, I tumbled 10 peeled whole shallots into the steaming pork fat. When the shallots softened and started to brown, I added 4 whole (peeled and smashed) garlic cloves along with  2 sliced leeks. Just before the leeks took on color, I deglazed the pot with 3/4 cup Kentucky Ale Bourbon Barrel Stout and let it reduce by half before pulling it from the heat.

Off the heat, I scattered 5 sliced carrots over the shallots followed by a layer of chopped yukon gold potatoes, chopped Casey County white sweet potatoes, salt, pepper, and minced fresh parsley. After nestling the sausages into the potatoes, I showered them with additional parsley and topped everything off with overlapping 1/2" thick sliced potatoes.

After adding enough chicken stock to cover the sausages, (about 2 1/2 cups), I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, and slid it into a low preheated 325 degree oven to coddle in its juices for 2 1/2 hours.

I pulled the stew from the oven and brushed the top layer of potatoes with melted unsalted butter. After spooning the tender pork sausages and softened sweet vegetables over seasoned plumped pearl barley, I finished with the unctuous drinkable broth, Celtic grey
sea salt, cracked black pepper, and fresh parsley.



Friday, January 26, 2018

Butter Bomb

If making fresh pasta is a labor of love, consider scratch made angel hair pasta  a full on love fest. When fresh, the feathery dough strands slip through your fingers like soft satiny ribbons. When kissed with heat, the ribbons morph into gossamer wisps of  edible air.

 Like any fresh pasta, angel hair dough needs pampering. Its all in the feel. Too dry, add a splash of water. Too wet, hit it with  flour. Kneading, like a great massage, should be a rough and gentle tumble. Kneading is the backbone of any good pasta. It takes time. You know you've hit the mark when it's firm, yet pliable. While it's a wee bit of a commitment,  making fresh is pasta is so worth the effort and clouds of flour dust. Sure, there are fantastic store-bought pastas out there, but scratch made pasta ups the wow factor and begs to be in everyone's wheelhouse. Whether it's whipped up for a weeknight affair or dolled up for a special tryst, gather a few simple ingredients and feel the dough.

Angel Hair Pasta With Pan Seared Shrimp And Lemon Beurre Blanc.

Although a food processor or stand mixer (with dough hook)  can expedite the process,
hand mixed dough lets you get down and dirty.

After sifting 2 cups 00 flour  onto a floured board, I made a well in the center of the flour and cracked 3 large eggs into the well before drizzling the eggs with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a dash of salt. I broke the eggs with a fork, gently mixed them together, and carefully incorporated the flour from the wall into eggs bit by bit until the flour and eggs formed a shaggy loose dough. After gathering the dough into a ragged ball, I kneading it for 15-20 minutes, constantly turning and flipping the dough until the the flour was completely absorbed and was smooth to the touch without being tacky. I formed the dough into a ball, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and set it aside to rest.

When the dough was thoroughly relaxed, about 20 minutes, I used a bench scraper to divide the dough into thirds. Working with one third at a time, while keeping the remaining dough covered, I flattened the dough into a rough rectangle and rolled it through the lowest setting of a pasta roller. After folding two sides of the dough into the center, I rolled the dough through the lowest setting 2 additional times before passing the dough through each setting (from lowest to highest), changing the setting after every pass and flouring the pasta between passes until I reached the last (thinnest) setting of the pasta roller. I floured the delicate sheets of pasta on both sides, cut them into workable lengths, placed them onto floured parchment paper, and repeated the process with the remaining dough.

The fun part.
Feeding the pasta sheets through the cutter side of the roller, I used one hand to crank the pasta  and my other hand to catch the strands as they fell from the cutter before flouring them and curling them into nests.

Beurre Blanc.
White Butter Sauce.
Beurre blanc is a glorious and simple emulsified sauce similar to hollandaise or bearnaise (minus the eggs and anxiety). Infused with shallots (with the occasional addition of fresh herbs)  and fortified with acid before being slowly emulsified with cold butter, beurre blanc should be thrown up there with the mother sauces. Great with fish, chicken, or vegetables, its versatility rivals its simplicity.

Embrace the butter.
I sliced 3 sticks of butter (yes 3) into 8 pieces and slid them into the refrigerator to chill.

After tumbling 2 tablespoons minced shallots into a sauce pan, I added 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/4 cup dry white wine, and lemon zest. I brought the mix to a low boil and let it reduce to a syrupy consistency, about 2 tablespoons.

The heat dance.
Again, much like a hollandaise or bearnaise, beurre blanc needs gentle regulated heat. Working over a medium flame, I added 2 pieces of butter to the concentrated lemon/wine combo. Whisking constantly, I slowly added the remaining butter 2 tablespoons at a time until the butter emulsified with the acid and thickened into a creamy butter sauce. Magic. After straining the sauce through a chinois, I added a salt and white pepper to taste, slipped the sauce onto a double boiler over a low flame to hold, poured myself a glass of wine, and moved on.

I dropped the fresh pasta into a pot of heavily salted boiling water for 2 minutes, scooped it into a bowl, tossed it with 1/4 fresh grated parmigiano reggiano, and twirled the pasta into buttered 6 ounce ramekins before sliding them into a preheated 350 degree oven for 4 minutes to  set the pasta.

After tossing 1 pound peeled and deviened  16-20 count shrimp with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I
dropped the shrimp onto a screaming hot grill pan, let them rip until they just turned pink, about 2 minutes per side.

I nestled the pan seared shrimp into the pasta nests, tucked ribbons of black pepper-flecked coppa ham alongside the shrimp, and slipped the nests onto pools of beurre blanc before napping the shrimp with additional sauce and finishing with red lumpfish roe, slivered fresno pepper, fresh lemon, and micro greens.

Cupped inside the nests, the plump firm shrimp played off the delicate threads of angel hair pasta.Light, bright, and airy, the beurre blanc belied the copious amount of butter. Draped over the shrimp and through the pasta, the lemon-spiked butter sauce brought acid to the party. While the coppa added a hint of silky pig, the  roe provided pops of salty crunch.

Shrimp and pasta.
Buttered up.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Deer Crossing

I was never much of a hunter. Even growing up on a farm in rural western Kentucky surrounded by a family of hunters, I was odd man out. Oh sure, I had frog gigging and trout fishing down pat, but wielding a shotgun to shoot things simply wasn't my cup of tea. The closest I came to bagging a deer was from the passenger seat of an old Volkswagon involved in an unfortunate late night incident with a darting deer. Hardly a feat to hang a hat on. Hunting, in general,  was a big deal for my hometown folks. While there seemed to be a hunting season for just about everything and anything, deer season was the Super Bowl in my neck of the woods. When it finally rolled around, the release of anticipation catapulted  the boys in my family into hunter frenzy. They played hard ball. Kills and points were badges of honor. Trophies were strapped onto dusty old trucks for display. Photos were taken and shared. Camouflage was the norm at most family gatherings. It's what we did. They did. As a misfit country boy, I was more amused than bothered by the madness. As a venison lover, I certainly wasn't taking a moral high road. I got  what the all fuss was about.. It's just that hunting wasn't my thing and camo wasn't my color.

Years and years later,  after moving away from the family farm, Michael and I dutifully returned home for family gatherings. Most often than not, it was during deer season. Not much changed over the years. Why would it? Driving through the winding roads and hills of those rural counties during deer season was precarious at best. The typical serene drives through the countryside were shattered by invisible gunshots echoing through the damp misty valleys. Duck, cover, and drive. Home. Pass the camo.

Yeah, I was never much of a hunter, but I always loved the spoils. I still do. When real hunters hunt and want to share their bounty, count me in as one very lucky boy.

Pan Seared Venison Tenderloin With Green Peppercorn Sauce.
Venison tenderloin is leaner than lean. It simply needs a kiss of heat for medium rare, added fat, and tender care.

I trimmed a 3/4 pound Woodford County venison tenderloin and seasoned the meat with salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika before slipping it into a screaming hot cast iron skillet drizzled with 1 tablespoon olive oil. After adding 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 2 whole garlic cloves, and fresh thyme sprigs, I seared the tenderloin 3 to 4 minutes per side (mounting the steak with the sizzling butter after each turn) until a gorgeous crust formed and slid it into a preheated 400 degree oven.  When the internal temperature reached 120 degrees, I pulled the tenderloin from the oven, removed it to a cutting board, and tented it for 10 minutes to rest and  allow the internal temp to reach 125 degrees for medium rare.

After removing the spent thyme, I returned the skillet to the heat, added 2 tablespoons unsalted butter,1 chopped shallot, 1 minced garlic clove, and 2 tablespoons brined green peppercorns. When the shallots turned translucent, I splashed the skillet with 1/3 cup Makers Mark bourbon, tipped the skillet to ignite the alcohol, took a quick shot of bourbon, and let the flames taper off before adding 1 heaping tablespoon dijon mustard, 1/4 cup heavily reduced beef stock (almost a demi glace), a pinch of salt, pepper,  and 3/4 cup heavy cream. When the sauced reduced and thickened, I pulled it from the heat and set it aside.

I sliced the venison tenderloin on the bias, overlapped the medallions onto toasted Bluegrass Bakery ciabatta croutons, and plated the sauce  before finishing with flaked sea salt, cracked black pepper, fresh slivered scallions, and flash fried parsnip ribbons.

Flecked with pops of briny heat, the dijon-infused cream sauce tempered the slight gaminess of the tender deer meat. While the slivered scallions provided grassy freshness, the fried parsnips added an earthy delicate crunch. Total win.

Respect the hunt.
Respect the bounty.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Lost Boys

New Haven, Connecticut. Christmas Eve, 1981.

After a few fun filled months of living in New Haven, I found myself alone on Christmas Eve. My roommate and my friends had flown home for the holidays. For reasons I can't remember now, I stayed behind. New Haven received 8 inches of snow on Christmas Eve. I stood by the window of my 2nd floor Victorian kitchen  and watched heavy wet snowflakes  drop like leaden bombs. It was the kind of snow children dream about.  Dense, thick, and wet. The piling  snow caused tree limbs to bend  and evergreens to sag. Everything was smothered and covered in a mass of white wet snow.  It was beautiful. Christmas in New England. 

Being from Kentucky, I was quite taken with the gloppy menacing snow. Cocooned in my Victorian snow globe, I felt safe, warm, innocent, and content. Let it snow. I had nowhere to be, nowhere to go, and nothing to do. The world was my frozen oyster. Urban Alpine Heidi. 

My romantic idealized notion of a New England  Christmas Eve didn't last long. Nope. Who was I kidding? I was home alone,  21 years old, adventurous, antsy, and full of myself.

The following morning, I slopped through the snow and boarded the Metro North commuter train for the short 2 hour trip into NYC to see my first ever Broadway musical production.

As the train slowly chugged along the ancient tracks,  the conductor chanted each arriving station in song-like fashion, "New Caanan, Danbury, Waterbury, Grand Central Station." "Have your tickets ready, please."

Peter Pan, starring Sandy Duncan, was playing at the Lunt Fontane theatre on 47th Street. Sandy Duncan, Captain Hook, the Darlings, the lost boys, Peter Pan, and me. On Christmas day. After two hours of sword fights, flying imps, crocodiles, precocious children, and gorgeous music, I was mesmerized.  Just when I thought nothing could be more surreal or fabulous, Peter Pan flew over the audience  and showered us with glittering faerie dust.  I was undone. Spent. Wrapped and unwrapped.  Merry Christmas to me.

When the show was over, I meandered a few blocks north back to the train station.  I had some time to kill before my train left for New Haven, so I bellied up to the winding bar of the Grand Central Oyster Bar and ordered a steaming bowl of their iconic oyster pan roast.  Tucked under vaulted tiled ceilings, a busy chef prepared my oyster pan roast counter side in an old silver-plated steam jacket kettle.  When the plump oysters curled around the edges, he carefully poured the creamy concoction into a large white serving bowl and slowly slid it front of me. Poetry in motion. It was magnificent.

"The Oyster Bar pan roast -- still being served at the Oyster Bar in the bowels of Grand Central--is a silky concoction, thicker than soup but gentler than stew.  It's made with a half dozen Bluepoints, sweet butter, a dash of secret chile sauce, and flagons of country cream, all poured over a comforting mattress of soggy toast.  In that magisterial, eternally bustling room full of strangers, it tasted exactly the way it did when I ordered it for the first time with my grandfather, a lifelong New Yorker: opulent, mysteriously spicy, and faintly like the sea."
Adam Platt-

I've never forgotten that taste of Christmas.
After slurping down the last briny oyster, I ran down an endless concourse to catch my train back to New Haven.

Somewhere between Danbury and Waterbury, the train lost power and slowly glided to a gentle standstill.

I stared through the window at the blue moonlit snow.  It was so quiet, I could almost hear the snow melting as it splashed against the frosted double-paned glass. Silent. Dark. Still. I didn't care. For a brief frozen moment, I was a lost boy dreaming of Neverland.

Within minutes, the train powered up and we were on our way home.

Christmas Oysters.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant Cookbook.
One serving. I doubled it for Michael and me.
I used fresh Bluepoint oysters from the Lexington Seafood Company.

8 Freshly opened oysters
2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) butter
1 tbsp chili sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup oyster liquor
1/2 tsp paprika
dash celery salt
1/4 cup clam juice
1/2 cup cream
1 slice of dry toast

Place all ingredients except cream, toast, and 1 Tbsp of butter in the top of a double broiler over boiling water.  Do not let the top pan of the double broiler touch the water below.

Whisk or stir briskly and constantly for about 1 minute until oyster edges begin to curl, stirring carefully as to not damage the oysters.

Add cream and continue stirring briskly.  Do not boil.

Pour pan roast into a soup plate over the slice of dry toast.

Top with remaining 1 Tbsp butter and sprinkle with paprika.

Serve right away.

Instead of dry toast, I slathered toasted ciabatta crostini with lemon chive butter.  After floating the
crostini over the pan roast, I drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil before finishing with snipped Beaujolais spinach stems for crunch.

Let it snow.                                                                                        

Friday, November 24, 2017


As a kid living in Austria, Vienna was a  wonderland at Christmastime. The town simply sparkled. Scattered throughout the sprawling districts and town centers, Christmas Markets (Christkindlmarkets) spilled from most all the city squares. Illuminated by spectacular twinkling lights draped over buildings, crisscrossing streets, and strewn through  trees, Vienna glowed at night. It was like living in a glistening crystal snow globe bathed in pristine swirls of  cascading powdery snow. Wonderland.

Although I didn't go out into the city that much at night, ordinary life in Vienna changed during the Christmas season. Everybody, young and old, embraced the holiday wonder. Frau Olga, a stern level-headed  Czechoslovak Socialist Republic escapee and unlikely nanny to me, embraced the wonder with open arms. Hand in hand, we explored Christmas in Vienna. Every journey into the wonderland was a whirlwind adventure. With my smallish mittens attached to her heavy woolen gloves, we'd hit the town with total abandon. Frau Olga never dallied about or lingered. It simply wasn't her nature. We'd spend hours dodging trolleys, sidestepping cars, jumping curbs, and ricocheting off bustling holiday shoppers. We seemed to be always going somewhere without really getting anywhere. One of the few things that could slow her down was the aroma and lure of chestnuts roasting over open coals. With the most humble equipment ( a grill and a grate) vendors sold crackling hot fresh chestnuts on the curbs of the streets. The aromatic wafts of chestnuts slowed her down and when she slowed down, I slowed down right along with her. Respite from the splendid Christmas chaos. The chestnuts, roasted until the outer shells split open to reveal their tender flesh and served up in paper bags or cones, warmed our bodies and souls. While toys and gifts filled my boyish wants, the visceral memories of  those chestnuts stayed with me forever.

A few years back, Michael and I stumbled across an old roadside stand selling roasted chestnuts under a makeshift tent. Without much fanfare or hoopla, rusty metal barrels filled with coals and topped with grates were covered with  hot popping chestnuts. Lost in the moment, I could feel the squeeze of Frau Olga's warm hand.

Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Roasted Chestnuts, Pearl Onions And Pomegranate.

Fire Roast.
Chestnuts roasted on an open fire.
While vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts are widely available this time of the year, fresh chestnuts are as well. For me, it was about the journey.

After carefully scoring 1 pound Madison County chestnuts on the rounded side, I ignited a stack of coals in an outside grill, let them burn down, and nestled a dry cast iron skillet directly onto the coals before tumbling the chestnuts into the skillet and closing the lid. Sipping on a glass of wine, I opened the grill and shook the skillet from time to time to insure an even roast and to prevent the chestnuts from burning. When the shells cracked open and curled away from the nuts, I pulled the chestnuts from  the coals and wrapped them in a dish towel for a quick steam.

Although chestnuts can be a bear to peel, it's best done while they're
still hot or warm. After carefully peeling away the outer shells, I used a dish towel to rub off the flaky inner skins covering the chestnuts and set them aside.

After slicing the woody ends from 1 pound fresh brussels sprouts, I halved the larger ones, kept the smaller ones whole, and set them aside.

While frozen pearl onions would have done the trick, I prefer the texture of fresh onions. Sure, they're a tad tedious to peel, but the effort is worth the extra step. I snipped the flat ends off 1 pound fresh pearl onions, tossed them into simmering water, covered the pot, and let them blanch for 5 minutes before draining them in a colander, patting them dry, pinching them out of their skins, and setting them aside.

Glaze it and they will come.
I brought 1/2 cup pomegranate juice and 1/4 cup honey to a simmer over a medium flame, added a splash of fresh lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and  reduced it to a light syrup (a whisper of coating on the back of a spoon) before pulling it from the heat to cool.

Pan Roast.
A one pan wonder.
Working over a medium high flame, I heated equal parts unsalted butter and olive oil (2 tablespoons each) in a large cast iron skillet. When the butter started to sizzle, I tumbled the reserved brussels sprouts into the skillet, showered them with salt, and let them rip for 8 minutes before reducing the heat to medium low and covering the skillet. When the sprouts were tender (about 8 minutes), I pulled them from the heat and scooped them onto paper towels to drain.

After wiping the skillet with a paper towel, I returned it to the heat, added a drizzle of olive oil, and sauteed the blanched pearl onions. When the onions caramelized, I added 2 minced garlic cloves and the reserved roasted chestnuts. Just before the garlic browned, I swirled the pomegranate syrup into the skillet and let it bubble away until the chestnuts and onions were lightly glazed before tossing them with the warm brussels sprouts and finishing with jeweled pomegranate seeds.

With bits of slight char, the tender earthy brussels sprouts and slippery sweet onions countered the smoky nuttiness of the roasted chestnuts. While hints of garlic and salt poked through the tart sweet finish of the pomegranate glaze,  the seeds provided  pops of perky fresh crunch.

Holiday nuts.
Over an open fire.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


I suppose most families have their own quirky traditions and customs when preparing the food and gathering together for holiday meals. In my family, not only were the certain givens required for the traditional meal, but signature side dishes were must-haves for certain family members. Everyone had to  have their own go-to signature side dishes. Oh sure, we all shared everything, but a happy day might have gone up in smoke if something was missing from the table. Although I quietly felt that most everything on the table was for me , I knew the pecking order. The younger kids had to have fresh broccoli casserole. My father owned the fresh scalloped oysters. My brother had first dibs on the crispy turkey skin. Two versions of stuffing (cornbread and chestnut) were prepared for two separate aunts. Sweet potato pie had a namesake. As did the baked macaroni and cheese. On and on and on. I wanted to lay claim to the creamed pearl onions or liver-flecked giblet gravy, but the creamy pearls and gravy were granted family "favorite" status and off limits on dibs. Even though I was  an oyster loving-stuffing stalking-turkey skin junkie, my assigned must-have side dish was creamed summer squash. Yep. Creamed. Summer. Squash. I'm not really sure how that came about. I guess, because it was so unusual when it made its debut, I must have made a big fuss about it. And boom, just like that, it became my must-have go-to  can't-live-without signature side dish. Slap my name on it and call it mine forevermore. Don't get me wrong, it was a fine rendition of creamed summer squash. Steamed, smashed, and whipped with softened cream cheese, it stood out against the backdrop of brown food. I adored it. It's just that in the lore of family traditions, I didn't choose it. It chose me. Truth be told, I secretly wanted to stake my claim on the turkey butt. You know, that little gelatinous something something attached to the bottom of the turkey that roasts for hours in the pan juices until it caramelizes into a sticky unctuous flavor bomb? Yeah, that turkey butt. Dibs.

Nowadays, side dishes aren't attached to a beneficiary.  Michael and I each have our own holiday must-haves. We have what we want to have without a pecking order to weigh us down. And, when or if squash hits the holiday table, it's more than likely to be a variation of butternut squash.

Roasted Butternut Squash Tart With Sorghum Glaze and Fried Sage.
A different (and simple) take on a familiar flavor profile.

After slicing the bulbous end of a very fresh 2 pound Casey County butternut squash, I stashed the bulb away for a future soup and  peeled the neck of the squash with a vegetable peeler. Using a mandolin, I sliced the squash into flexible 1/8" slices, stacked them together, and squared them off into uniform 7"x 3/4" ribbons, allowing the size of the squash to dictate the length of the ribbons.

Basket weaving 101.
Lattice work.
I rolled 1 sheet of thawed store bought puff pastry into a 9"x 12" rectangle and placed it on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan before brushing the top with an egg wash.

Starting on the shorter end of the puff pastry, I lined 6 butternut squash ribbons down the length of the pastry, leaving a little wiggle room between slices before carefully weaving the remaining ribbons through the squash and trimming the ends to create a latticed blanket of butternut squash.

I slid the tart into the refrigerator to chill for 15 minutes, pulled it from the fridge, and covered the tart with parchment paper. After topping it with an additional sheet pan to weigh it down, I slipped it into a preheated 375 degree oven for 10 minutes before removing the top sheet pan and parchment paper, brushing the steamed squash with olive oil, and sliding it back into the oven to bake for about 30-35 minutes.

Sweet Tart.
For a hint of sweetness, I warmed 1/3 cup Oblerholzter's pure cane sorghum along with  2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar over a medium flame until combined and set it aside.

When the pastry turned golden brown and the squash started to caramelize, I pulled the tart from the oven, brushed it with the sorghum glaze, dusted it with flaked salt, sliced it into wedges, and finished with scattered flash fried sage.

Topped with translucent melted ribbons of squash, the tart was as light as a feather. The inherent sweetness of the squash balanced the subtle acidity and smoky undertones of the sorghum glaze. While the flaky pastry provided airy crispness, the fried sage added delicate pops of earthy crunch.

A different take on holiday squash.
Slap my name on it.