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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.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Bird

With  friends and family gathered around the holiday table, the bronzed roasted turkey makes its entrance nestled on a platter strewn with fresh laurel, fresh sage, and fresh rosemary. Garnished with harvest apples, cranberries, and perky kumquats, the turkey floats into place at the center of the table before a pristine carving knife  cracks the skin and easily glides through the flesh. The meat, butter tender, glistens as each slice falls to the side amid the silent gasps of anticipation. The perfect moment. Thanksgiving.

We rarely had that moment on Thanksgiving Day growing up on the farm in western Kentucky. Oh sure, we probably felt like we had that mysterious aha moment, but I'd be hard pressed to recall ever having an enormous roasted turkey carved at our holiday table. In the midst of the inherent chaos of the day, the turkey was carefully tended to and coddled. Massaged with butter, stuffed , seasoned, roasted, and basted for hours, it always came out of the oven beautifully browned and ready for its moment. Never happened. In our little farmhouse tucked into the woods, as folks mosied around sipping  cheap white wine, my father would quietly slip into the kitchen, buzz the turkey with an  electric knife, arrange it on a platter, and serve it up.  After shuttering the kitchen doors to conceal the carnage, we'd  gather around the table to finally feel the moment.

It holds true to this day. Not just for me, I would imagine. We think everything has/needs to be perfect. The perfect bird. The perfect sides. The perfect wine. The perfect reveal. I'm down with that. I can also totally wrap my head around the notion that some folks actually do carve the turkey at the table. Double thumbs up to that.  But, here's a thought, for those of us who don't present the whole gorgeously roasted turkey table side, there's an alternative method to the madness that cuts the cooking time down and guarantees succulent breast meat and thigh meat. While a bit unconventional, it's actually downright fun.

Scoot on over Norman Rockwell, there's a new bird in town.

Roasted Spatchcocked Turkey With Rosemary and Citrus.
Spatchcocking or butterflying a turkey allows the breasts and thighs to cook evenly and more quickly. Flattened out, a spatchcocked turkey also maximizes oven space, exposes more stable surface area for basting or glazing, and, quite frankly,  is easier to handle from oven to table. Oh sure, it's hard to overcome the awkward notion of butchering tradition. I get it. The first time I spatchcocked a turkey, it felt so wrong. In the end, everything about it was so right. With so many distractions on Thanksgiving Day, why not opt out of the razzle-dazzle table side carving, spatchcock the bird, and enjoy the moment?

While butterflying a turkey is exactly like butterflying a chicken, size matters. It requires a little more effort  to remove the backbone of a turkey because of its heft. Poultry sheers or kitchen sheers and a heavy serrated knife are ideal.

After removing the giblets from a 12 pound turkey, I massaged it with kosher salt and refrigerated  it overnight (uncovered) for a quick dry brine. The next morning, I pulled the turkey from the refrigerator, patted it dry, and plopped it breast side down on a very large cutting board.  Using poultry sheers, I cut down each side of the backbone, removed it, and tossed the backbone into a stockpot with water, chopped carrots, onions, and celery. After flipping  the turkey over, I forcefully pushed down on the breastbone until it cracked. Once cracked, the turkey easily flattened out. To splay or tie? Instead of having the legs of a completely splayed 12 pound turkey dangle over the sides of a sheet pan, I pulled the legs together and tied them with kitchen twine. Spatchcocked and tied.

Working over a medium low flame, I simmered 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil  with 1 sliced orange, 1 halved lemon, fresh rosemary twigs, salt, and cracked black pepper for  10 minutes before setting it aside to cool.

In lieu of a rack I tumbled 4 chopped carrots, 4 chopped celery stalks, 2 chopped onions, 2 quartered fresh fennel bulbs, 2 halved oranges, 3 halved lemons, 5 smashed garlic cloves, fresh thyme, and fresh rosemary sprigs into a large roasting pan. After placing the turkey on top of the vegetables, I added 1 cup chicken stock to the  pan, brushed the skin with the reserved citrus-infused olive oil, and slid it into a blistering preheated  450 degree oven for 30 minutes before reducing the heat to 375 degrees and letting it rip, rotating and basting from time to time,  until the internal temp of the thigh meat reached 165 degrees, about an hour longer. Midway, I tented parts of the breasts to avoid over browning.

Glitz and glam.
While the turkey did its thing, I brought 3/4 cup fresh orange juice, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, and 1/4  cup honey to a simmer before adding 2 tablespoons orange marmalade and a generous splash of Grand Marnier'.

During the last 30 minutes of the roasting time,  I brushed the glaze over the turkey at 10 minutes intervals. When the internal temperature hit the 165 degree mark, I pulled the turkey from the oven, carefully removed it to a cutting board, tented it, and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Aside from the other aforementioned benefits, ease in carving  is the high point of a spatchcocked turkey.

I simply sliced each breast down the breastbone  to release the whole lobes before slicing each lobe against the grain into 3/4 " pieces. Using the joints as a guide, I separated the legs and thighs, easily slipped the tender thigh meat from the bones, and carved the thighs into 3/4' slices.

After a final light handed whisper of glaze, I nestled the carved turkey onto platters feathered with fresh herbs before finishing with fresh oranges, fresh lemons, and a dusting of flaked sea salt.

The Bird.
Spatchcocked, burnished,
and ready for its moment.


Saturday, October 7, 2017


Everything's coming up pumpkins and pumpkin spice.
Everything's coming up pumpkins and flaky crusts.
Everything's coming up pumpkins and hot beignets.
Pie pumpkins aren't just for pie.

Pumpkin Beignets With Salted Dulce De Leche.

Pumpkin Puree.
So, canned pumpkin or fresh pumpkin? Let the debate begin. While most folks agree that there is very little taste difference between either fresh or canned pumpkin puree, fresh puree has a lighter texture compared to the compacted dense texture of canned. . When incorporating it into airy deep fried doughnuts, lightness is key.  While it might be a little more liquidy than the canned stuff, a few extra steps easily eliminates the wet factor. Obviously, canned pumpkin is a bit more convenient and accessible, but when everything's coming up pumpkins at our local farmers' markets, fresh pumpkin puree is the way to go.

After rinsing 4 Casey County pie pumpkins (about 1 1/2 pounds each), I split them in half, scooped out the stringy seeds, placed them cut side down on parchment paper-lined sheet pans, and slid them into a preheated  375 degree oven to roast for 40-45 minutes. When  knife tender, I pulled them from the oven to cool before carefully scraping the softened flesh from the wilted skins.  After picking  out a few stray wandering bits from the cooked pumpkin, I pureed it in a food processor (in batches), and spooned it into a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl to drain for 30 minutes. To help evaporate additional excess moisture, I placed the puree in a saute pan over a low flame, simmered it for 30 minutes, pulled it from the heat, and set it aside to
cool. The whole shebang netted about 3 cups pureed pumpkin.

Salted Dulce De Leche.
Again, baked canned sweetened condensed milk or the  fresher stove top version? Since I ditched the can for the pumpkin puree, I went with the fresh version.

After stirring together 4 cups milk, 1 1/4 cups sugar, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in a heavy saucepan, I brought the mix to a boil, reduced the heat, and simmered it for about 1 1/2 hours until it thickened and caramelized. I pulled the dulce de leche from the heat and added 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract along with 2 teaspoons flaked sea salt before setting it aside.

Go nuts for dough.
I sprinkled 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast over 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast proofed, I added 3/4 cup pumpkin puree, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 beaten eggs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, a pinch of salt, and a 1/4 cup heavy cream. After mixing the wet ingredients on a low speed, I added 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and a pinch of ground cloves before gradually adding 4 cups all-purpose flour. When the dough pulled away from the bowl and formed a smooth pliable dough, I covered it with a clean dish towel to rise.

After the dough doubled in size, I turned it onto a floured work board, patted it down, rolled the dough 1/4" thick, cut it into diamonds, and covered it to rise again for 1 1/2 hours.

Time to make the doughnuts.
I heated vegetable oil ( 3" deep) in a heavy dutch oven until it reached 380 degrees. Working in batches, I carefully slipped the beignet diamonds into the hot oil and fried them for about 2 minutes per side to puff up and brown before scooping them out onto paper towels to catch any excess oil. While they were still warm, I showered the pillowy beignets with powdered sugar and nestled the salted dulce de leche to the side.

Utterly messy.
Like powdery pumpkin-spiced pockets of air.

Beignets in the pumpkin patch.
Pass the dulche de leche.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Riding The Cusp

Staring at a pile of acorn squash tumbled on a farm stand, a quiet voice drifted across the table, "You're not ready yet, are you?" On that particular warm morning at the farmers market, I wasn't quite ready to let summer go. I was on the prowl for fresh heirloom tomatoes, half runner green beans, peppers, and ripe paw paws. Winter squash wasn't on my radar.

We're in the midst of the cusp, the time of year when the seasons gently shift  and morph together. Sun-kissed tomatoes, radishes, gushingly sweet multi-colored watermelons, cantaloupes, and sweet bell peppers vie for space alongside gourds, pumpkins, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and dried corn.  The cusp.

As we slowly transition into fall, riding the cusp can be tricky business.  This time of year, I bridge the seasons one day at a time. Grow it and I will come. While I'm not quite inclined to blow out a full autumn feast just yet, I try to go with the flow. Although we might still have plenty of time to soak in the perplexing myriad of late summer hold overs, impeccably fresh winter squash is having its moment in the sun. I finally went there.

Wilted Swiss Chard Salad With Blistered Grapes, Roasted Squash, And Chevre.

While I adore caramelized roasted winter squash glazed with brown sugar and butter as much as anyone, I'll hold back until autumn takes a firm hold, brisk breezes stay true, and dried fallen leaves rustle through long dappled shadows.

After halving 1 medium sized Madison County Red Kuri squash and 2 Stonehedge Farm acorn squash, I scooped out the seeds and used the outer ribs as guidelines to slice the squash into 1/2" half moons before tossing them with olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper. After scattering them onto a sheet pan, I slid the half moons into a pre-heated blistering 450 degree oven for about 35 minutes, turning them midway and checking to see if they were tender.

When the squash caramelized and charred a bit, I pulled them from the oven and set them aside.

Some folks use only the brightly veined leaves of chard and ditch the stalks. Cooking them separately from the leaves, I like to treat them like gussied up jeweled celery.

After rinsing one large bunch of Casey County red Swiss chard, I trimmed the leaves from the stalks, stacked the leaves together, rolled them up, sliced them into 1" ribbons, set them aside, and sliced the stalks on a very sharp bias. I drizzled 2 tablespoons vegetable oil into a screaming hot skillet, carefully dropped the stalks into the sizzling oil, showered them with salt, and gave them a quick saute to retain a slight crunch (about 2 minutes) before scooping them onto paper towels to drain.

While the oil was still hot, I tumbled 2 cups Woodford County seedless purple Mars grapes into the skillet and added 1/4 cup water to help burst the grapes. Just before the grapes collapsed from the heat, I added the chard to the skillet, folded it through the grapes, covered the skillet, and let it rip for 3 minutes.

I pulled the skillet from the heat, splashed the greens with  fresh lemon juice and Oliva bello extra virgin olive oil. After giving everything a quick toss, I tucked the roasted squash into the wilted chard before finishing with flaked sea salt, cracked black pepper, slivered shallots, and flecked creamy chevre.

Kissed with heat, fruity olive oil, fresh lemon, and grape jus, the slightly bitter chard played off the earthy sweetness of the roasted squash, perky chevre, and the muted musky undertones of the softened warm grapes.

Riding the cusp.


Saturday, August 26, 2017


Twenty minutes before service, I left the controlled chaos of the kitchen to gather my thoughts and take a quiet stroll through the shaded grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park.

It's coming on September.
September means different things to different people. To me, it's a nostalgic reminder of the two years I taught the Culinary Arts: Bourbon Style Cooking School at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.  For bourbon lovers, it means descending on Bardstown, Ky for a nonstop celebration of all things bourbon during the annual two week festival. With a myriad of events scheduled daily and nightly, there's something for everyone craving bourbon . Sponsored by Jim Beam Distillery, The Culinary Arts: Bourbon Style Cooking School usually snags a prime spot during the first week of the festival. Smallish in comparison to the other events, it's the first to sell out as the hot ticket up for grabs to the estimated 53,000  attendees of the two week event.  For back to back years, I was fortunate enough to head a catering team for the Bourbon Cooking School and lead (on a cramped corner stage) 250 paying guests through a 5 course meal jacked up with Jim Beam Bourbon. After months of planning, testing, prepping, and cooking, we'd load up our goods and take our make shift mobile kitchen 70 miles down the road to Bardstown  for the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Set up. Hook Up. Mise. Prep. Cook. Chill. Hold. Mark. Place. Delegate. Lead. Trust. Breathe. Repeat. With very few (zilch) on sight resources, precise planning and concise packing was key. Fetching forgotten stuff wasn't an option. It was joyous hell.

It's one thing to love the sanctuary of the kitchen when hammering out food, it's another animal altogether to step out of the kitchen and demo said food in front of an adoring bourbon guzzling crowd.

Twenty minutes before service, I needed to breathe.

After meeting Fred Noe, the 7th Generation Jim Beam distiller, I gathered the staff for a quick pre-shift rundown and hit the stage for what would become my last (by choice) stint teaching the Culinary Arts: Bourbon Style Cooking. Thankfully, the traditional pre-dinner bourbon toast was obligatory for everyone present. I chugged.

Southern Cornbread with Jim Beam Red Stag Whipped Butter. Check.

Basil Hayden Marinated Shrimp Cocktail Shooter. A Two-Fer. Check.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Fried Sage and Jim Beam White Label Creme' Fraich. Check.

Bakers Bourbon Braised Short Ribs. Check.

Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bookers Bourbon German Chocolate Hard Sauce. Say no more. Check. Double Check.

After 25 years, they've pulled the Bourbon Cooking School from this year's festival to make room for fancier digs and other high-end events. Whether or not it returns to the schedule, I'm proud to have joined a long list of area chefs that helped ignite the rage of marrying bourbon with food before it was cool. Trailblazers. The Bourbon Trail. Kentucky Proud.

Bakers Bourbon Braised Short Ribs.
Looking over my prep lists and costs sheets from the event that year, I worked with 250 pounds of Certified Angus Beef Short Ribs.. There's the beef.

Revisiting my old recipe, I dialed it back a bit.
Replacing bourbon with red wine, I  cooked the beef with a nod to beef bourgignon.

Brown food equals flavor. I seasoned 4 pounds room temperature Marksbury Farm beef short ribs with salt and pepper. After slicing thick cut bacon into 1/2" lardons, I fried the bacon in a large dutch oven until crispy and scooped the lardons onto a paper towels to drain. While the bacon fat was still smoking hot, I seasoned the short ribs with salt and pepper before searing the ribs on all sides (using tongs to turn). When deeply caramelized, about 4 minutes per side, I pulled them from the pot, and set them aside.

I drained all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pot, returned it to the heat, and tumbled 2 sliced carrots, 2 sliced celery stalks, 2 quartered onions into the hot fat. When the vegetables started to sweat, I added 2 crushed garlic cloves, salt, and cracked black pepper. Before the vegetables took on color, I added 2 tablespoons tomato paste and swirled it through the softened vegetables, making a point to coat them with the paste as they cooked down. After the tomato toasted and darkened to a brickish color, I pulled the dutch oven from the heat and  deglazed the pot with 1 cup Bakers bourbon. I returned the pot to the heat and reduced the bourbon to a glaze before adding 3 cups beef stock, 1 cup additional Bakers bourbon, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, salt, fresh thyme sprigs, fresh parley stems, and fresh rosemary. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and slid the the short ribs (covered) into a preheated 350 degree.

2 hours into the braise, I sauteed sliced button mushrooms in a combination of butter and oil until golden brown, showered them salt, and set them aside. After adding 1 tablespoon oil to the cast iron skillet, I tumbled 1 pound blanched and peeled whole pearl onions into the skillet, sauteed them until they started to caramelize, scooped them out, and tossed them with the reserved mushrooms.

After 3 hours, I pulled the short ribs from the oven, carefully removed them to a side plate and strained the braising liquid through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the solids. After skimming the accumulated fat from the top of the sauce, I returned it to the heat and reduced it by half before swirling a beurre manie ( a flour and butter paste) into the sauce to thicken it a bit.

After briefly warming the short ribs in the satiny bourbon-infused sauce, I nestled the ribs over Weisenberger Mill pimento cheese grits, scattered the sauteed mushrooms and pearl onions to the side, and drizzled additional sauce over the ribs  before finishing with salt, cracked black pepper, and micro greens.

Kentucky Short Ribs.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Inside Out

Eggplant parmesan and I have relationship issues. Oh, we get along just fine. I adore eggplant parmesan. What's not to love about crunchy fried slabs of meaty eggplant layered with fresh mozzarella, top-notch marinara, and parmigiano-reggiano baked until the cheese chars in all the right places? Those oozing caramelized edges are the stuff of dreams. Yep. That's how it could/should be in a perfect relationship....without issues.  As much as I tend to its needs, coddle, and dote on it, eggplant parmesan simply doesn't return my favors in kind. I just can't seem to make things work out. It bites back by being either too soggy, too dry. too cheesy (if that's possible), or too bitter. Relationships are hard. Sometimes, you've just got to go with the flow. Eggplant season teases me. Smitten by all the gorgeous varieties flooding our farmers markets,  my first instinct was to hook up with another eggplant parmesan, but I changed it up and turned things inside out for a riff on the familiar.

Eggplant Involtini With Herbed Goat Cheese,
Prosciutto, And Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

Puree it.
I blistered 3 red peppers over a gas flame, turning them with tongs for an even cook. When the skins charred, I flipped the peppers into a large bowl and covered them with plastic wrap to steam. When cool enough to handle, I removed the stems, slipped off the skins, scraped out the seeds, and tumbled them into a blender. After adding the juice of a fresh lemon, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of the reserved strained pepper juices, I blitzed the peppers into a smooth puree and set it aside.

Cheese it.
After bringing 4 oz goat cheese to room temperature, I added 2 oz softened cream cheese, salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon minced parsley, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon fresh marjoram, and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder before whipping the mixture until smooth and sliding it into the refrigerator to chill.

Roll it.
Using a mandolin, I sliced 3 Jessamine County Globe eggplants into 1/4" slices, grilled them for 3 minutes per side (until marked and softened), pulled them from the grill, and set them aside.

I placed paper thin slices of prosciutto on a work board, topped the prosciutto with a slices of grilled eggplant, dolloped 1 tablespoon of the herbed goat cheese onto the bulbous ends of the eggplant, rolled them up, and nestled them into the red bell pepper puree. After drizzling them with olive oil, I slid the involtini into a preheated 400 degree oven. When the prosciutto crisped from the heat (about 8 minutes), I pulled the eggplant rolls from the oven and topped them with additional red bell pepper puree before finishing with toasted pine nuts, flaked sea salt and fresh parsley.

Masquerading as miniature trompe l'loeil eggplant parmesan rolls, the demure one bite wonders packed a light as air perky punch.  With hints of lemon and smoke, the bright velvety puree countered the slight earthy tones of the eggplant, subtle herbed tang of the melted goat cheese, buttery pine nuts, and salty crunch of the cooked prosciutto.


The perfect date.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Clam Up

Clams Casino for 350?  Been there, done that. A while back, I had a notion that preparing old school clams casino (baked half shelled clams topped with crisped bacon, breadcrumbs, and fresh herbs) might be a clever addition to a sprawling multi-stationed buffet for a casino themed event. While clams casino might work beautifully for a busy dinner service or smallish dinner party, it was a daunting undertaking for mass production with other stations to consider. Think about it. Figuring most folks might grab two, three, or even four clams between cocktails and gambling, that added up to about 1000 clams that needed to be shucked, cleaned, prepped, topped, baked, and served. I was knee deep in clam juice with enough leftover clam shells to fill a quarry. In the end, I had a blast and the guests were happy.  Royal Flush. Win.

I adore fresh clams, Nowadays, when I want to clam it up, I take a much simpler approach by tossing them with a red or white sauce for pasta Vongole, fortifying sturdy clam chowders with their briny essence, or steaming them whole in butter-laden white wine. In the height of summer, when fresh tomatoes abound, I fuse fresh clams with summer tomatoes for a light beachy riff on surf and turf.

Steamed Clams with Market Tomatoes 
No rake required.

I heated equal parts olive oil and butter (2 tablespoons each) in a cast iron dutch oven over a medium flame. When the oil started to ripple, I added 2 cups cleaned sliced leeks and 1 cup diced Marion County Red Bull purple onion. When the leeks and onions caramelized, I added 4 cloves minced garlic, salt, and a generous grinding of fresh Tellicherry black pepper. Just before the garlic browned, I deglazed the pot with 1 cup West Sixth  Brewery Lemongrass American Wheat ale and 1 cup chicken stock. After letting the sauce reduce by half, I tucked 2 pounds Boyle County Cluster tomatoes (still on the vine) into the sauce and covered the pot.

Steam Heat.
When the tomatoes melted from the heat, I nestled 1 1/2 pounds cleaned Top Neck fresh clams (hinged sides down) into the tomatoes, reduced the heat, splashed the shells with fresh lemon juice, covered the dutch oven, and let them rip for 8-9 minutes. When the last clam peeked open. I quickly removed the clams from the heat and drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil before finishing with fresh basil and shards of Sunrise Bakery toasted baguette.

Big clams. Big Flavor. Plump and tender, with a briny slight chew, the Top Necks popped with each bite. As fabulous as they were, it was all about swiping the toasted baguette through  the garlicky summer tomato beer-infused clam broth.


Clam lipstick.