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Monday, July 10, 2017

Shake It Up

The summer I turned sixteen and earned my driver's license, my parents encouraged (forced) me to get a real summer job. Apparently, they tired of funding my halcyon summertime shenanigans and the time had finally arrived for me to pay the piper. And gas bills. And clothing bills. A real job. Oh sure, having access to a car offered me a limited amount of mobility and freedom, but I had to pay for that freedom. Back in the day, a major national retail operation was headquartered in our small rural western Kentucky town. It was a pretty big deal. Big money. Big jobs.  It seemed that most everyone in our little  town, in some capacity, worked for the corporation at one time or another. It was simply what people did. As fortune would have it, a member of my extended family owned the mega corporation and, as a member of the family, it was an unspoken right of passage for me to join the party. Now, there were plenty of jobs to be had at the headquarters. Ranging anywhere from stock clerks, retail clerks, office jobs, runners, secretaries, executives type things, or janitors, there were plenty of jobs. Pushed from my nest, I got out and landed a summer job at the company..... on the loading docks. The. Loading. Docks. No lipstick on that pig. The loading docks were, at best, miserable. Housed in archaic non-air conditioned wooden warehouses with tin roofing, the immense buildings were the distribution centers for the national retail stores. During the summer, the heat and humidity billowed from those old dank warehouses. Sweat was a badge of honor. Whistles blared for the 15 minute morning breaks, 30 minute lunches, and 15 minute afternoon breaks. Like clockwork, eighteen wheeler semi-trucks pulled into the docks every morning and every afternoon. Second after second after minute after minute after hour after after hour, we loaded and unloaded trucks in the sweltering heat. I lived for the sound of the whistle. Within days, I swapped my normal play clothes for patched dungarees, stained t-shirts, clumsy leather gloves, and steel-toed boots. My hair didn't stand a chance.  It wasn't pretty. I was a duck out of water trying not to look and act like a duck. I was dock worker.

Over time, I became an ace at loading and unloading trucks. My fellow hardened co-workers embraced my eager weirdness. In turn, I embraced my sweat and the sound of the whistle.

Come late July, after a very long summer, I got wind of open auditions for the production of "Shakertown Revisited", a play with music staged under tenting on the historic grounds of Shakertown at South Union in Logan County, Ky, (the other lesser known Shaker village in Kentucky) two counties over and a mere 40 minutes away as the crow flies.

"Shakertown Revisited", a symphonic drama with original Shaker music, highlighted the influence that leader Mother Ann Lee had on the sect in the 1700's and the subsequent growth of the Shaker community. Shaker missionaries (known as shaking Quakers because of their music and zealous nature of worship) settled in southern Ohio and Kentucky after the Cane Ridge, Ky Revival of 1801-1803, which was an outgrowth of the the Logan County, Ky Revival of 1800. Known for their frugal simple lifestyle, devotion, and furniture making skills, the Shakers flourished until they eventually faded away due to their sacred vows of celibacy. The late summer production of "Shakertown Revisited" celebrated their journey and their simple way of life. For the production, sprawling tents covered the beautifully manicured grounds of South Union. At dusk, folks gathered under the tents to embrace the Shaker journey through music, dance, and historic storytelling.

The mere notion of the auditions ignited a sense of escape from the summer of my discontent. I saw the light.  As luck would have it, after a few rounds of callbacks, I landed a very small speaking role as a villager. Very small. Like, one line small.  That said, my one line guaranteed me a Shaker costume and a ticket out of Dodge.

Alas, my shaking Quaker tenure was smaller than my role. Ultimately, the late night rehearsals combined with the longer than expected drive home didn't jive with my work schedule and I had to bow out of the production before it opened. During the festival, I attended most of the performances. With sold out audiences, I'd huddle in the aisles between bleachers and quietly sing along before leaving at intermission to make my early morning whistle.

Here in Kentucky, we're fortunate to have an historic footprint of the Shaker legacy. It lives on through their restored villages, furniture, music, story,
and food.

Shaker Lemon Pie.
A simple gift.

Shaker lemon pie, a specialty of the Ohio branch of the Shaker community, made its way south as the Shakers settled in Kentucky. While Shakers were self sustaining and grew most everything they ate, common thinking is that as lemons became more widely available after the railroad system started transporting goods from region to region, the exotic fruit happily found a place in their community kitchens. Their sense of frugality was best featured in their lemon pie. Nothing went to waste. Whole lemons were thinly sliced, tossed with sugar, and left to macerate at room temperature for 24 hours. After the addition of eggs, the sticky tart marmalade-like filling was surrounded with pie crust and baked.

Nowadays, the Shakers are mostly renowned for their exquisite furniture making skills. That said, several of their simple wholesome recipes have been chronicled in cookbooks, keeping their culinary legacy alive. Their iconic Shaker Lemon Pie best represents that legacy. Using the original recipe since 1967, the pie is still served daily at The Trustees' Table dining room  at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, a short scenic drive from Lexington. Packing a fabulous lemony punch, it's not for the faint of heart. Tucked inside an old fashioned flaky double crust shell, the pie is an explosive marriage between  lemon curd and lemon marmalade. Sticky, sweet, bitter, and tart, Shaker Lemon Pie is a downright lemon bomb.

For a spin on tradition, I went topless.

Shaker Lemon Tart.
I used the same amount of filling for a double crust pie, but  swapped out a simple pate brisee dough for an opened faced tart.

Pucker Up.
Using a mandolin, I sliced 2 large lemons as thinly as possible before tossing the paper thin rounds with 2 cups sugar. After massaging the sugar into the lemons, I covered the bowl with a dish towel and set it aside to macerate for 24 hours, stirring the mix from time to time.

As the lemons broke down and melted into the sugar, the mix had the consistency of a beautiful uncooked lemon marmalade.

Tarted Up.
For a double crust pie, any standard pie dough would have worked beautifully. While the original recipe ( a simple combination of 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup shortening plus 2 tablespoons shortening, and 2 tablespoons water) is true to form, I went rogue with a pate brisee. Topless. Rule breaker.

I sifted 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour into the bowl of a food processor before adding 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces. After pulsing the mix until it resembled a course meal, I streamed 1/4 cup ice water into the processor until the dough came together and could hold together when pinched. I tumbled the dough onto a floured board, used a bench scraper to slice it in half, formed each half into a disc, wrapped both discs in plastic wrap, and slid them into the refrigerator to chill.

After an hour or so, I pulled one disc of dough from the refrigerator (freezing the second piece for other shenanigans), placed it on a well floured board, and rolled it into a 12"x 1/4" round, turning and flipping the dough to keep it workable. I tucked the dough into a 9" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, pressed the dough up the sides, and trimmed the dough along the top edge. After repairing a few dings and dents with leftover excess dough, I slipped the shell into the freezer.

Fill'er Up.
As per the original recipe, I mixed the macerated lemons and juices with 4 frothy beaten eggs. I pulled the tart shell from the freezer, docked with a fork, poured the filling into the shell, maneuvered a few lemon slices to the top, and slid the pie into a pre-heated 450 degree oven for for 15 minutes before reducing the heat to 375 degrees for an additional 20 minutes. When the lemons started to caramelize, I pulled the tart from the oven, and placed it on a wire rack to cool completely before sliding it into the refrigerator.

Chilled and sliced, I finished the delicate shards of pie with airy soft clouds of chantilly cream.

'Tis A Gift To Be Simple
      - "Simple Gifts", 1848,
          Elder Joseph Brackett











Thursday, June 29, 2017

Fried Corn

I imagine we all have differing target dates as to when summer officially begins. Some folks might consider the last day of school or the opening of pools as the start of summer. Then, of course, there's meteorological summer and astronomical summer. In my book, summer kicks off when roadside corn trucks dot the rolling country roads and  flat bed trucks, stacked high with corn, back into stalls of the farmers market. Caught up in the corn frenzy, wispy silks fly through the air and float gently to the ground as people tear back husks to inspect the hidden jewels. Tender, sweet, and fresh enough to eat raw, few things top the arrival of locally grown corn.

Whether boiled, steamed, grilled, creamed, or fried, fresh summer corn kindles memories of cookouts and summer picnics. Back in the day, my grandmother fried her garden corn. She'd heap spoonfuls of leftover salty bacon fat in a large cast iron skillet and fry the hell out of the cut off  kernels until they caramelized and crunched like popcorn. While she creamed a few batches from time to time, boiled whole cobs rarely hit the table. She was the fry queen. As summer moved along,  my grandmother instinctively morphed into her 'depression era' saving mode, canning the remaining bounty of corn for the leaner times. While her straight up  canned corn lost its luster after overwintering in the dusty grim cellar, her preserved corn  relishes survived bright and piquant. When my family settled into our own home on the far side of the family farm, my parents took a more modern approach with our garden corn. Bacon fat wasn't invited to the party. Picked fresh from the garden, it was either meticulously shucked and de-silked before a quick steam or cut from the cob, milked, and briefly sauteed. Salt. Pepper. Butter. Corn. Heaven.  During peak season, the endless extra hauls of corn got shucked, cut off, milked, blanched, and frozen. A family history of fresh garden corn. Different generations. Different takes. All fabulous.

Nowadays, I'm all over the place when the corn starts rolling in. I love it bacon-wrapped, chargrilled, boiled, steamed, creamed, pureed, pan fried, sauteed, or souffled, Few things can beat  corn pudding, spoonbread, or corn bread made with fresh peak season corn. And fried? I take it one step further and toss whole ears of corn into a deep fryer. The intense heat of the fryer quickly caramelizes the corn while simultaneously steaming the inside of the kernels. Slathered in butter, it takes me back to my grandmother's table, sans the extreme crunch and leftover bacon fat.

Deep Fried Corn.
Simple.
Quick.
Fantastic.

Lime Chive Butter.
I brought 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter to room temperature before adding 1/2 teaspoon white
pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, and 3 tablespoons snipped garden chives.
I set the butter aside and cranked a deep fryer to 350 degrees.

Typically, I fry whole ears of corn.  For more manageable smaller corn bites, I cut them down a notch. After shucking and cleaning 6  ears of Wayne County bi-colored corn, I trimmed the ends before slicing the ears into 1 1/2" discs.

Working in batches, to not  overcrowd the deep fryer, I carefully lowered the corn into the hot oil for about 3-4 minutes. When they started to crisp around the edges and caramelize, I tumbled them onto a parchment paper-lined sheet pan, slathered them with the chive-flecked lime butter, and stabbed them with toothpicks before finishing with flaky sea salt, a splash of lime, and additional chives.

Kissed by the hot corn, the lime-infused butter slowly melted  through the crevices of the crispy caramelized kernels, puddling underneath for easy dipping and swiping. While the lime countered the rich buttery fat with subtle bright acidity, the snipped chives and salt provided fresh grassy crunch. Dip. Swipe. Repeat.

Buttered up deep fried corn.
Perfect.






Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Planked

I spent many lazy summer afternoons fishing from the rocky banks of Barren River Lake in Western Kentucky. When my family settled in with my grandparents on their rural Kentucky farm, the lake was practically brand spanking new. For thirty years, my grandfather's farm hugged the banks of the Barren River. His farmhouse was situated on the highlands amid cleared fields and meadows. The remaining part of the farm, thick with trees and brush, dipped down to the river at rugged steep inclines. A few years before we moved to Kentucky, the United States Corps of Engineers built an earthen dam next to his farm to create Barren River Lake. In doing so, the lake swallowed half of my grandfather's land, leaving the farm with direct access to wooded sleepy coves overlooking the placid bluish green water.

The lake was my playground. As a transplanted outsider, I took refuge by the water. During summer breaks, when I wasn't frog gigging with my brother or getting into mischief, I'd meander down to the lake and fish. Swelled by high summer water levels, the lake was the ultimate fishing hole.  Armed with a bamboo cane pole (not kidding), a plastic bobber,  and a bucket of earthworms , I was a master catcher of tiny crappie and bluegill. Too small to keep or fuss over, chasing those feisty little fish piqued my interest as I wiled away the hours. On occasion, I'd mosey over to the wider sections of the coves that opened up to the vastness of the lake. The rugged points jutted out and straight down into the water like prehistoric stepping stones. Covered with mossy plankton, those sunken nooks and crannies were prime feeding grounds for the smallmouth bass that gathered in and around the rocky out-croppings. On lucky days, I'd snag enough  bass to tote home in hopes of a summer cookout or fish fry. Boyish folly. Although  I don't fish much anymore, I'm still a fisherman at heart. Nowadays, I let others do the catching.

Plank Grilled Whole Black Bass, Baby Fennel, And Candy Onions with Italian Salsa Verde

Salsa Verde.
Unlike the piquant tomatillo based Mexican salsa verde, Italian salsa verde is an herb forward vinaigrette used as a finishing sauce. After combining 4 teaspoons minced fresh oregano, 6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, 2 cloves smashed garlic, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, salt, cracked black pepper, and 1/4 cup tear drop peppers, I added 1/2 cup extra virgin olive, gave it a quick stir, and set it aside.





Planked.
While most any untreated wooden plank would work on an outdoor grill, cedar planks are widely available. Prior to firing up the grill, I soaked a large cedar plank in water for 2 hours, weighing it down with a plate to keep it submerged. When the coals reached the optimum burning point, I raked them to one side of the grill to create two areas of heat. I placed the plank over the cooler side of the grill for 3 minutes, pulled it from the heat, and brushed it vegetable oil.




Stuffed.
After rinsing two 3/4 pound scaled, cleaned, and gutted whole black bass under cold running water, I stuffed each cavity with fresh lemon, sprigs of thyme, parsley, and fresh oregano. For good measure, I slipped 1/2 slice fresh lemon into the gills before rubbing the fish with olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper. After placing the seasoned black bass on the cedar plank, I tucked blanched and quartered Stonehedge Farm baby fennel, purple cauliflower florets, and halved  Pulaski County purple candy onions around the fish. I slid the plank onto the cooler side of the grill,  brushed the vegetables with olive oil, closed the lid, vented the hood, and let it rip for 30 minutes, turning the vegetables from time to time.

When the internal temperature of the bass reached 125 degrees, I pulled the plank from the grill, spooned the salsa verde over the cooked fish, and showered everything with sea salt before finishing with crisped slivered scallions.

Kissed with indirect heat, the flaky bass, caramelized fennel, and softened candy onions absorbed the subtle smoky char from the cedar, balancing the herbaceous punch of the bright vinaigrette. While the tiny peppers added pops of heat, the tangled scallions provided grassy wet crunch.

Simple.
Fresh.
Fabulous.

Go ahead, fire up a grill
and walk the plank.








Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Mind Your Peas And Carrots

Long before moving to Kentucky to live with my grandparents on their lakeside western Kentucky farm, my exposure to fresh vegetables was a wee bit limited. Aside from the foraged wild mushrooms, fermented vegetables, and potatoes that Frau Olga cobbled together for her eastern European concoctions or the curious things Ababa tossed into her Ethiopian stews, the scope of my vegetable realm was relegated to the offerings tucked into the corner compartments of frozen t.v. dinners. You see, my father was a struggling single military father of two young boys and frozen t.v. dinners were his  secret weapons of convenience, embracing them with overzealous gusto. The nightly rotation kept the vegetable options ever changing. Peas. Peas and carrots Green Beans. Repeat. Swimming in butter, the two-bite wonders felt exotic and fresh. More so, they were elevated to divine when the sticky fruit pie filling (cherry or apple)  bubbled over the aluminum divider and swirled through the vegetables. Hence, my life long love fest with mixing savory and sweet. As a kid, I adored those vegetables, falling for the peas and carrots combo hook line and sinker. I'm still falling.

Pan Roasted Baby Carrots With Pea Shoot Pesto.

Pesto.
While Genovese basil pesto is the undisputed king of pesto, a good pesto can be made with just about anything. I simply had gorgeous fresh pea shoots at my fingertips to help drive home the pea factor.

After rough chopping 3/4 cups pistachio nuts and 2 garlic cloves in a food processor, I added 3 cups of Lazy Eight Stock Farm pea shoots, 1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach, a pinch of salt, and 1 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano. After a few quick pulses to break down the greens, I let it go and slowly drizzled 1/3 cup olive oil into the mix until it formed a course pesto, purposely  keeping it shy of a full out puree. I scooped the pesto into a glass bowl, covered it with plastic wrap (pressing the wrap into the pesto), and set it aside.

Carrots.
After snipping the tops from delicate Stonehedge Farm pencil thin baby carrots, I simple rinsed and buffed the carrots with a wet paper towel to gently peel away their papery skins.

Peas.
I washed and trimmed 2 pints of Shelby County sugar snap peas before blanching them in salted boiling water for 2 minutes, plunging them into ice water, drying them off, and setting them aside.

Hot skillet.
Fast and furious.
I heated a large cast iron skillet over a medium high flame and hit it with a splash of canola oil. When the oil started to smoke, I tumbled  the sugar snap peas into the skillet for 5 seconds, scooped them out, and immediately added the baby carrots. Kissed by the high heat, the whisper thin carrots cooked quickly. When they started to blister, I pulled them from the heat, tossed them with the pea shoot pesto, and  tucked the sugar snap peas to the side before finishing with a tangle of fresh pea shoots and  slivers of Blue Moon Farm green garlic.

Simple.
Fresh.
Fabulous.

Mind your peas and carrots.





Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Simmer.

Hope springs eternal when the Farmers' Market opens after a long sleepy winter. While a few of the overwintered stalwarts  still linger, delicate baby lettuces, baby kale, pea shoots, tomato plants, bedding plants, and herbs line up side by side, fluttering through the cool Spring breezes. Every gentle leaf ushers in the new season with a subtle relaxed joy.  Although I'm keenly aware of the reawakened abundance of the early season market, I'm always a wee bit surprised when spring asparagus quietly appears. Without much fanfare, bunches and baskets dot most every farm stand. Vibrant beacons to a fresh beginning, I imagine  asparagus patches tucked in and around the fields of our local farms. Tempted to overplay my windfall by roasting, grilling, or wrapping them in prosciutto, I kept it very very simple to let the fresh spring asparagus sing.

Typically, I gravitate toward long lazy braises, frenzied high heat sautes, or charcoal/wood grilling. Unctuous gravies, rich pan sauces, and smoky nuance make me happy. Sometimes, it's fun changed things up. Why drag out the big guns when all I needed was a pot of simmering water?

Asparagus with Poached Eggs.
Simple is as simple does.
I trimmed the ends off of a gorgeous bunch of Silas Farm spring asparagus and  used a vegetable peeler to peel the ends before dropping them into a large pot of salted boiling water. After 3 minutes, I pulled the blanched asparagus from the hot bath, plunged the spears into salted iced water, patted them dry, and tossed them with a light fresh lemon vinaigrette.

Few things rival a perfectly poached egg. That said, a perfectly poached egg can be an illusive beast. Some eggs behave badly and some don't. Sometimes they break, run, flail, or overcook. Don't sweat it. A watchful eye and a little coddling goes a long way.

After filling a deep sided sauce pan with water, I brought the water to a perky simmer before adding 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar. I cracked super fresh (key) Elmwood Stock Farm eggs one at a time into a small mesh strainer to let the loosey goosey  egg whites drain from the firmer whites, slid the eggs into individual ramekins, and carefully slipped the eggs into the rippling water. As they floundered about, I coaxed the egg whites to gently firm up around the eggs, covered the pot, and pulled it from the heat. When they hit the perfect poach (about 3 minutes, after a close check), I scooped them out with a slotted spoon and nestled them over the blanched asparagus before finishing with micro greens, flaked sea salt, lemon zest, and Stonehedge Farm shaved French breakfast radishes.

Poke the yolk.
When pierced, the yolks spilled from the jiggly eggs, enveloped the tender asparagus, and swirled through the vinaigrette, countering the warmth of the drinkable silky yolks with bright acidic punch. While the flaked salt added bite, the delicate shaved radishes provided assertive wet crunch.

Simple.
Sexy.
Fresh.
Perfect.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Sterling

It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings. The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, and on the same food they are fostered. The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream that makes the bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brook-side the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. The crushing of it only makes it sweetness more apparent. Like a woman's heart, it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring, it comes. Besides the gurgling brooks that makes it music in the pastures it lives and thrives.

 -J. Soule Smith, The Mint Julep: The Very Dream of Drinks, 1949.

Lush rolling pastures.
Painted planked fencing.
Thoroughbreds grazing at dawn

And free flowing bourbon.

The Bluegrass blooms during Derby season.

It's all about tradition.
Mint Julep
2 oz. Bourbon
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
3 Fresh mint leaves
Crushed ice
Muddle fresh mint inside of the glass.
Add simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice.
Garnish with more ice and fresh mint.

Dripping with demure southern charm, our minty bourbon-spiked elixir captures the very essence of Derby day.  On the first Saturday in May, swept away in the swell of My Old Kentucky Home, we'll raise a toast with Mints Juleps and call the horses to the post for the 143 running of the Kentucky Derby.

While heavenly splashed over crushed ice, the perfect marriage of mint, sugar, and bourbon lends itself to a world of other possibilities. Break the rules and slap it on ribs for a boozy barbecue treat.

Eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy the ride.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint Julep Barbecue Sauce
When it comes to lamb, I'm totally old school about the traditional mint jelly accompaniment. It's nonnegotiable. While I've had my share of the minty green jellies from the market (thumbs up), I wanted bourbon-infused Mint Julep jelly for the base of the sauce. Why smear sauce on precious little lamb chops? Why not? Meat. Fire. Sauce. Win. Place. Show. Bet on it.

Simple Mint Julep Jelly.
Think about it. Mint. Julep. Jelly. Sticky bourbon candy.  I packed 1 1/2 cups fresh mint into a small sauce pan with 3 cups water, 1/4 cup Old Forester Bourbon, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.. After bringing the water to a boil, I reduced the heat, simmered the mint for 20 minutes, strained the mint, and set the minted water aside. Using the same sauce pan, I brought 4 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 cups of the reserved mint juice, and 3/4 cups Old Forester bourbon to a hard boil before adding a 3 ounce pouch of liquid pectin. When the gurgling mix came to a full rolling boil, I let it rip for 1 minute, skimmed the foam, filled  jelly jars with the molten hot jelly, and set them aside. When they were cool enough to handle, I screwed on the lids, and slid them into the refrigerator.

Getting Saucy.
Wanting to err on the lighter side of gloppy, I nixed the standard ketchup base and heated 2 cups tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1/4 cup Oberholtzer's  sorghum, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/4 cup grated onion, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon onion powder, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder over a medium flame. After bringing the sauce to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer and added 3/4 cups of the reserved mint jelly. When the jelly melted into the sauce, I added a splash of bourbon to wake it up and  pulled it from the heat.

Lamb Pops.
Local Four Hills Farm lamb racks are gorgeous. Trimmed and frenched, their delicate nature belies their big meaty punch. Although I toyed with the notion of grilling a whole rack, I sliced a 1 1/2 pound rack into individual chops for optimum meat to sauce ratio. Better yet, when sliced, the exposed bones have built in handles for easy snacking. Drink in one hand, chop in the other. Perfect finger food.

To give the chops a savory head start, I brought them  to room temperature before rubbing them down with a simple mixture of  kosher salt, ground black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, and ground coriander.

Quick Fire.
I fired up charcoal in a chimney, released the glowing coals into the base of a charcoal grill, and distributed the coals to create even heat before slapping the lamb chops onto the grill. After 2 minutes, I brushed them with the Mint Julep barbecue sauce and continued basting and flipping until the internal temperature reached 130 degrees for medium rare, about 4 minutes per side.

I pulled the lacquered chops from the grill and let them rest before finishing with flaked sea salt and scattered fresh mint. Because more is more, I slipped a small jar of Mint Julep jelly to the side for an extra bourbony sweet kick.

Derby Chops.
Saucy.
Sassy.
Fabulous.












Thursday, March 23, 2017

Batter Up

Bon Voyage.

My father, brother, and I left Ethiopia for our final return to America in 1966. Although we typically flew across the Atlantic on our travels, our final big move came with baggage. You see, my father had grown quite attached to his rickety old brown Rambler station wagon. Whether puttering up and down mountainside roads on weekend trips to the Red Sea or driving around our secluded walled-in army base, the Rambler served my father well. He loved that old car, so when it was time to leave Africa, he booked all of us (including the car) on a one way trans Atlantic crossing aboard the SS Independence departing from Naples, Italy bound for New York City Harbor.

After transporting the car to Italy  beforehand, we boarded the ship for a nine day voyage across the Atlantic ocean. Back in the day, cruising wasn't a thing. Ocean liners were built for speed and transportation. They took passengers from point A to point B. The luxuries of sailing varied from ship to ship. The SS Independence, launched in 1951, was a small modest ship. That said, divided by a very rigid class system, well heeled travelers paid top dollar to enjoy the fancier side of sailing. We weren't well heeled or fancy (much to my dismay) , so we enjoyed the perk-less joys of Cabin Class. Cabin Class, a wee step up from Tourist Class, was bare-bones stark. Amenities? Hardly.  Our beds pulled down from the walls after the lone table folded up into the wall. Windows? Not on your life. There was a small movie theater on board, a dank swimming pool, and what seemed like miles and miles of wet wooden deck chairs interspersed with occasional painted shuffle board courts. Any preconceived notion of boyish adventure slowly morphed into nine monotonous days of  relentless high seas playing endless  games of shuffle board. Shuffle bored. I ached for the quiet throbbing heat of Africa.

On a cold Spring morning, the Statue of Liberty floated by our ship as we neared New York Harbor. I wanted fanfare, ticker tape, and cascading melodic music to greet our arrival. Was that too much to ask? With zero hoopla, we docked in New York City the day before Easter. When the ship was secured, the gangway slowly lowered onto a cold concrete pier dwarfed by cavernous dimly lit warehouses peppered with busy deckhands and dock workers. There wasn't a shred of glamour to ease my pallid sea born boredom.

While our fellow travelers gathered their belongings and tumbled into taxi cabs or shuttles, we waited for our car to be lifted out and unloaded from the cargo area of the ship. Eventually, we piled into my father's beloved Rambler for the 6 1/2 hour drive to Buffalo, New York to spend Easter with family members. The next morning, amid their Easter flurry, I was handed a cellophane-wrapped solid white chocolate Easter bunny. Solid. White. Chocolate. Luxury. I was undone. Nine days of shuffle board was worth every excruciating pretense of fun to behold a solid white chocolate rabbit. Heavy, dense, and perfectly molded, the white chocolate bunny rocked my world. After scarfing down the ears, devouring the head, and nipping off the tail, I stashed the headless hare into my suitcase for the long drive to Kentucky. And with that, I closed the book on my bittersweet return to America.

Down the rabbit hole.

Easter Rabbit.

Buttermilk Fried Rabbit with Tarragon Dijon Cream Sauce.

The other other white meat.Without skin to hinder the process, breaking down a rabbit was somewhat easier than breaking down a chicken. I splayed a dressed 2 1/2 pound Kentucky Proud Blue Moon Farm  rabbit on its back and used a boning knife to easily removed the arms with quick slices. After slicing around the leg joints, I popped the bones from the hip and separated  the legs from the body before setting them aside. After trimming off the belly flaps. I used a cleaver to remove the saddle, located just below the rib cage, and chopped it into 4 pieces. I tossed the rabbit meat into a bowl and wrapped the remaining bits in plastic wrap to freeze for future shenanigans.



Marinade.
Giving the rabbit a southern spin, I marinated the meat overnight in 3 cups full fat buttermilk, 1 tablespoon granulated garlic, 2 tablespoons onion powder, 3 tablespoons paprika, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper, lemon juice, and a few dashes hot sauce.

Batter up.
I brought the marinated rabbit to room temperature, set it aside, and heated vegetable oil (about 3/4" deep) in a large cast iron skillet until it reached 325 degrees. To give the rabbit hefty crunch, I double dredged the meat in seasoned flour and buttermilk before carefully lowering it into the hot oil. Working in batches, I browned the meat on both sides (about 6 minutes per side for an internal temperature of 165 degrees), placed it onto a wire rack set over a sheet pan, and slid it into a preheated 200 degree to keep warm.

Saucy.
After removing the oil from the skillet, I placed it over medium heat before adding 2 tablespoons minced shallots and 1 clove minced garlic. When the shallots turned translucent, I deglazed the skillet
with 1/2 cup white wine to release the tasty bits from the bottom of the skillet. After reducing the wine by half, I added a splash of tarragon vinegar, 3 tablespoons Maille Dijon mustard, flaked sea salt, a dash of ground white pepper, and 2 cups heavy cream. When the cream reduced and thickened, I feathered 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon into the cream and pulled it from the heat.

I tumbled the rabbit onto brown butcher paper and showered it with flash fried fresh tarragon
before nestling it alongside the tangy anise-infused cream sauce, country ham-flecked deviled eggs, and whisper thin ribbons of bread and butter pickles.

Fried rabbit with gussied up white pan sauce, old fashioned sweet pickles, and creamy deviled eggs.

Perfect finger food.